The Trade Union Congress (TUC) has called for the trade union movement to ‘put young workers at its heart’ after finding that young people are ‘getting a raw deal at work’. Rashmi Chopra, interim head of employment at Bindmans LLP, discusses the TUC findings which highlight a ‘widening generational pay gap’.

The TUC identifies the following barriers for young workers:

  • young workers are disproportionately affected by wage stagnation—pay gaps between younger and older workers have widened

  • young workers are concentrated in low-paying jobs—only 31% of young workers feel their current job makes the most of their skills, experiences and qualifications

  • young workers do not have access to the skills development to get on at work—37% of young workers on zero-hour contracts and 34% on part-time contracts have not been offered training opportunities in their current workplace

  • young workers are especially vulnerable to insecure work—over a fifth of young workers have worked on a zero-hours contract in the last five years

  • young workers have no voice at work—fewer than two-thirds of young people feel positive about their career prospects

TUC recommendations include:

  • developing a strategy to improve wages, productivity, skills development and conditions in low-paid industries, by setting up modern wages councils that can require employers to act

  • introducing a package of rights to significantly reduce insecure work and closing the loophole that means agency staff can be paid less than employees doing the same job, and ban the regular use of zero-hours contracts

  • introducing the right to a premium for working any non-contracted hours and compensation when shifts are cancelled at short notice for all workers

  • raising the level of spending on public services per capita so it is in line with other European countries

Nature of work for young workers is ‘temporary and flexible’

Chopra agrees with the TUC’s findings that young workers are especially vulnerable to insecure work: ‘The nature of work for young workers is also very temporary and flexible such as zero hours contracts. This makes their position in the workplace vulnerable, hired and fired at the whim of the employer.’

In particular, Chopra discusses the recent case of Independent Workers Union of Great Britain v RooFoods Ltd (t/a Deliveroo) TUR1/985(2016):

The Central Arbitration Committee decided that Deliveroo riders are not workers for the purposes of a union's application for compulsory recognition under Schedule A1 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992.

Chopra says this ruling that Deliveroo riders are not workers means that the employment status in the ‘gig economy’ remains uncertain: ‘As such, this perspective held by the courts, means that young workers continue to be vulnerable and the conditions to join a trade union to challenge unscrupulous employers leaves a big gap.’

By finding that Deliveroo riders were not workers, the employment status in the "gig economy" remains uncertain.

Trade unions must respond to the ‘challenge of organising young workers’

The TUC identifies several reasons that young workers may not join a trade union. These include:

  • a sense that unions are for another time, another place (public sector workplaces) or for other people (such as older people who are more established in their careers)

  • low expectations among workers about work, and a lack of understanding that young workers are often not treated fairly

  • a lack of trust between colleagues, which stops workers from identifying with one another and discussing shared problems The report continues: ‘The key message from the research is that unions need meet young workers where they are, rather than expecting them to encounter unions and decide to join as their grandparents did.'

The report continues: ‘The key message from the research is that unions need meet young workers where they are, rather than expecting them to encounter unions and decide to join as their grandparents did.'

‘This means making an offer that appeals to them and meets the needs they identify—and that is expressed in language that resonates with them, through mediums they are already familiar with. We encourage member unions to test and experiment with an open mind.’

Chopra adds:

Historically, the role of the trade unions was greatly diluted by the Thatcher’s conservative government in the 80s, following the miner’s and print workers’ strikes. There was a fundamental shift from collective bargaining to individual employment protection rights.The message that was being sent was that it was unfashionable to be a trade unionist and everyone for themselves.

TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady, says:

Today’s young workers need the support of trade unions. Unionised workplaces offer better pay, fairer treatment and safer working conditions, negotiated by working people themselves. But far too few young people are seeing these benefits, because they are in workplaces without unions.

This article was first published on LexisNexis