The changing landscape in the modern workforce means we need to reflect on traditional methods of trade union recognition and organisation. Young workers, particularly those who work in smaller, often remote organisations, face unique challenges that need a fresh perspective. Here are three things we should consider to address these issues head on and shape trade unions to meet the needs of young workers.
Many unions pursue recognition agreements with large, in-person employers. While this approach has proven to be effective, it is critical to recognise that the world of work continues to change rapidly. Many young workers are in smaller organisations, some are either completely or partially remote, and some without a physical workplace. With this in mind, the traditional method of organising on the shop-floor needs to be adapted.
Face-to-face interaction and informal conversations tend to be more irregular in these environments. Instead, new strategies that leverage the digital world must be developed. Unions should embrace technology that allows them to connect with young workers, such as social media, webinars, and online forums to engage, educate, and mobilise them. WhatsApp is your best friend.
The high turnover rate is one of the most significant challenges that trade unions face when organising young workers. Traditional union processes that involve lengthy negotiations, meetings, and waiting for external arbitration from ACAS can take months, if not years, in an era when switching jobs has become common for many. According to Owl Labs data, more than half of Gen-Z workers changed jobs between 2020 and 2022.
This constant turnover creates a difficult situation for unions. As progress in resolving disputes and challenges can be slow, more active and experienced colleagues are lost with unions needing to recruit, develop and support new union activists. Furthermore, newcomers to an employer may be less willing to be seen to "rock the boat" during their probationary periods. To adapt to this fast-paced environment, unions must streamline their processes, allowing for faster responses and greater flexibility in addressing issues that are important to young workers. We must also ensure that when young workers change jobs, we can assist them in joining or forming a union for their new job - otherwise those young members could be lost for good.
Young trade unionists are just as concerned about traditional issues like pay and working conditions as their older counterparts. They are also deeply involved in social issues. Unions that take a proactive stance on issues such as climate change, gender equality, and trans rights have a much better chance of attracting and retaining younger members.
Unions should address these broader social concerns to remain relevant and appealing to younger workers. This inclusiveness not only reflects the values of today's youth, but also our trade union values for a fairer and more equal world, demonstrating that unions are adaptable and sensitive to the changing social landscape.
As we celebrate TUC Young Workers Month, it is critical to recognise the changing workforce and the unique challenges that young workers face. Adapting trade unions is not only necessary to meet the needs of young workers, it is also an opportunity to ensure that the labour movement remains a powerful force in the modern workplace.
Trade unions can better connect with and support young workers by embracing digital strategies, streamlining processes, and broadening the scope of issues they address. They ensure that the voices and concerns of the younger generation are not only heard, but also amplified in the ongoing struggle for workers' rights. It's time for a change, and TUC Young Workers Month is the ideal time to get started.
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