Young Workers Month

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Young Workers Month - November 2015

What is Young Workers Month?

Held in November every year, TUC Young Workers Month aims to promote trade unions to young workers and highlight the issues faced by young workers.

Young Workers Month is an opportunity for union reps, activists and campaigners to reach out and inform young workers about trade unions and ensure that there are sufficient opportunities for young people to get involved and play an active role in shaping the movement. It’s also a chance for unions to demonstrate to young people that we are campaigning on the issues they care most about and that we are relevant to their lives both in the workplace and beyond.

Why we need YWM


Presently there are 683,000 people aged 16-24 (or 14.8%) who are looking for and available for work, meaning that the youth unemployment rate is nearly three times the unemployment rate for all workers aged 16+ (which is 5.4%)[1] . Although the unemployment rate in the UK for young people was already higher than for older age groups, the disparity between youth and adult unemployment rates grew dramatically during the recession, and has yet to return to pre-downturn levels.

Whilst youth employment has been on the upturn recently, from an international perspective we are badly letting our young people down. In comparison with other European countries, the UK has an unacceptably high ratio of youth to adult employment rates, which indicates that the UK’s young people are faring particularly badly in the labour market relative to older workers.


In 2014 19.6% of young workers were underemployed, more than double the percentage of any other age group. Underemployed workers are those people who have jobs but want to work more hours than they currently do. Young workers have consistently been twice as likely to be underemployed than workers in general, meaning it has become commonplace for them to be trapped in jobs that don’t have enough hours to provide the income they need.

Insecure work

A substantial number of working young people have jobs which fail to provide security in terms of hours or pay, with a high proportion in agency work and temporary, zero-hours or part-time contracts. A few examples of this would be:


255,000 young people (or 6.7%) are in zero hours contracts, meaning that the proportion of people in zero hours contracts is three times higher for young people than the adult population generally. A worker in a zero hours contract has no guaranteed hours and the employer has no obligation to provide work for them, despite the employee only receiving pay for the hours they work. Given the clear potential of such contracts to be exploitative, it is of great concern that zero hours contracts are many young people’s first experience of the labour market.


Much of the post-recession growth in self-employment is considered to be merely hidden unemployment. Self-employed weekly earnings are both uncertain and low, having fallen by 20% since 2006-07[4]. Furthermore, some of the self-employed are very vulnerable to sudden income shocks, without rights to safety nets such as Statutory Sick Pay or Statutory Maternity Pay. Young people have been traditionally the least likely to be self-employed, because of their lack of the experience and expertise usually required to make a start-up successful. Yet despite the risks of self-employment and their questionable suitability for it, at the beginning of this year almost 1 in 5 (18.5%) of working young people were self-employed. This represents a substantial increase, since 2005 the proportion of young people who are self-employed has increased more than for any other age group.

Low Pay

Young people’s wages fell disproportionately further than those of older workers during the downturn. Between 2009 and 2014 median hourly earnings for 22-29 year olds (excluding overtime and RPIJ-adjusted) fell by 12.7%, relative to a decrease of 9.3% for all employees[5]. This has left the youngest workers earning less than half the average, with this lower pay extending even up to the 22-29 age group. The inevitable consequence of this low pay is young people finding it harder and harder to get by. The most recent figures show that 1 in 5 (22.4%) young people are at risk of poverty[6].

[1] Unless otherwise stated, figures taken from ONS Labour Market Statis Oct 2015
[2] Youth unemployment stats Oct 2015
 For example, see Taylor 2013 ‘The Labour Market Impacts of Leaving Education when Unemployment is High: evidence from Britain’, Institute for Social and Economic Research, University of Essex.
[4] Resolution Foundation, ‘Just the Job or a Working Compromise?
[5] Resolution Foundation, ‘Low Pay Britain 2015
[6] ONS, Measuring National Wellbeing.

How to get involved:

Unions have organised a series of event and activities which will be taking place throughout this November, get in touch with your union to find out what they've got planned. Watch this space and the Forum's twitter account @TUCYoungWorkers and #YWM16 for updates about Young Workers Month.

The TUC have produced a Young Workers recruitment video that can be shared on social media throughout November

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