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This Young Workers Month, let’s remember the importance of young people in trade unions

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Today marks the start of Young Workers Month. Alex Graham, chair of the TUC Young Workers Forum tells us what we can expect during November.

Many of the challenges facing young workers and trade unions - low pay, zero-hour contracts and treatment at work - are not new.  

We’ve been calling them out for a long time and continued to campaign to change the law, for example on protecting workers from sexual harassment.   

As we mark young workers month this year, amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, it gives us extra reason to reflect on what we’re doing and how we must respond.    

Our priority campaigns on mental health and organising young workers remain as relevant as ever.  

The crisis has exposed many inequalities, particularly in the labour market.  

The challenges facing young workers are only expected to worsen, as worries about job losses grow along with the need for government support.  

And this makes it harder for us to organise and win the changes we need.  

But I know that the TUC and the trade union movement can rise to that challenge and I’m hopeful that what we have planned this month can set out how.  

Tackling the challenges 

It won’t be easy. Low pay continues to be a significant issue for young workers.  

We’ve seen dramatic changes to where we work, but the stresses and mental health issues from work remain the same.  

We’ll be talking about how we can make a difference with our mental health webinar in early November

For too many young people, the concern will be having a job at all. That’s why the TUC called for a jobs guarantee earlier this year.  

The government have since announced their ‘Kickstart’ programme and we’ll be talking later in the month about how we can make these opportunities good ones for young people.  

We need to make sure young people also have access to good quality apprenticeships that pay a decent wage and recognise the value of their work - regardless of how early they are in their career.  

Most pressing in the current crisis is that young workers can actually finish their apprenticeships.

A stronger movement for the future 

We’re only able to face these challenges and win for members and workers if we’re a strong and vibrant movement.  

Sadly, membership of young people in trade unions remains low. It’s a challenge we need to rise to. 

Even starker is the threat of an ageing reps base, with more than half of our reps aged over 50.  

So we need to build on our organising work to increase the numbers of young workers who are members of a union and the number of younger activists who provide a voice in the workplace for members.  

We know our trade unions are working hard.  

I’ve seen the commitment from young members on the forum to winning for young workers, and we’ll be able to hear from them with events later this month on how they’ve been organising during the pandemic and the challenges they’ve faced.  

We’ll also be bringing young workers together at a roundtable to plan how we take forward our mental health campaign.  

As we continue through the crisis, we should remember that trade unions have come to the fore once again. We have demonstrated our value in the workplace.  

In young workers month, let’s remind ourselves of the importance of young people in our trade unions.  

You can keep in touch with all the latest events and activities during young workers month on our website, on Twitter and using the hashtag #YoungWorkersMonth.  

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