From the TUC


30 Nov 2016, By

We reflect on what we’ve learnt about young workers and unions and look at what we could do to better reach out to young workers.

  1. Union density among Britain’s young core workers is very low Very few young core workers are members of a trade union- just 9.4%. Only 16.5% have their pay or working conditions affected by union arrangements. This may be partly down to the types of jobs young core workers are concentrated in: nearly half work in retail, hospitality and outsourced health and social care services. Unions tend to be less well-organised in retails and hospitality in particular, and other increasingly casualised workplaces.
  1. An increase in casual, short-term and ‘flexible’ work means young people have less loyalty to a particular workplace or employer Young core workers are likely to feel less attached to their workplace, or view their current job as a temporary stage of their life. Many low-paid workers, particularly in retail and hospitality, have purely functional relationships with jobs and do not consider them central to their identity. Consequently, they may be more likely to question how union membership benefits them. Short term and casual work tends to offer low pay – and some young workers may reconsider union membership when they are already struggling to cover household bills and other living costs.
  1. Many young people feel unions are not relevant to them Amongst Britain’s young core workers, three in ten are aware of unions being present at their place of work, but fewer are union members. So this cohort are working in unionised workplaces without necessarily feeling unions are relevant to them. Others do not know or understand the benefits or protection that membership could offer. Some young people we spoke to, when asked what they’d do if they had a problem at work, said they’d speak to friends, or HR, or just google it.

However, it is important that young people have a voice at work. Young people can often be reluctant to take action to resolve workplace problems and more likely to respond to problems by leaving their job. Perhaps, relatively new to the world of work, they may lack the confidence to speak out, or may be reluctant to complain in case they get into trouble at work. In a non-unionised workplace, this can be a real risk.


What can unions do to better reach out to young workers?

  1. Work on the issues that are relevant – and educate people of their rights Young workers face problems at work just as other workers do (take a look at the other nine challenges to find out more) but they often don’t feel that poor treatment or unfair conditions can be challenged. Sometimes they believe their treatment is the norm, or have very little awareness of their rights at work. There is a huge educational role for unions to help young people identify these and the sources of help available to them.
  1. Build a membership that reflects them and their values We know that people are most likely to join a union if they are persuaded by someone else like them – that is, someone sharing their age, values, background and more. I is essential that trade unions actively encourage and support development opportunities for young people within the movement. That doesn’t mean “getting down with the kids” or treating them as ‘other’ – it means practical things, such as using stock photos that show young people at work in promotional material, tweaking membership offers that better suit younger people’s lives, and putting out messages that resonate with their values. I’m a young worker myself – so I can speak from experience!
  1. Harness newer and better ways to communicate The vast majority of people now communicate with others and organise their life through apps, websites and digital platforms. They are efficient, easy and – most importantly – personalised to fit the specific needs of the person using them. Whatever your opinion of this individual, digital world, it is one that we have to work with. It poses a lot more challenges for union organising and tackling workplace exploitation – or perhaps, the same challenges in different disguises. They are not impossible to overcome. Uber, Sports Direct, ASOS – all household names, as well as the focus of high profile union campaigns this year. This highly-individual, increasingly casual, digital world is second nature to most young workers. We must learn from them to help us grow.

More information on the TUC and young workers can be found here.

Britain’s young core workers are the voices that are missing from our movement. They are aspirational, dynamic and want to be successful. But they are often trapped in low income work without the opportunity to progress or achieve what they want.

We’ve identified ten challenges facing Britain’s young core workers, and challenge unions to meet them. Check back here for the next challenge and read the full report.