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Young workers are in desperate need of a voice at work

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Across the country there are a disproportionate number of young people out of work. Beth Farhat talks about the problems they face

I was delighted to be able to speak at the launch of the #workingtogether employability charter today - a charter that recognises the collective responsibility society has for supporting youth employment.

It provides a framework of principles, practical commitments, and examples of good practice to strengthen the journey young people make towards sustainable work. This Charter has been co-designed with young people from Youth Focus North East, using their real experience of looking for employment, and partners who are supporting young people to access work.Across the country there are a disproportionate number of young people out of work.


Beth Farhat and Youth Focus North East
Beth Farhat and Youth Focus North East

Across the country there are a disproportionate number of young people out of work,

12% of 16-24 year olds in comparison to 4.2% of the whole population for the same period

(ONS Labour Market, April 2018)

This also applies in the North East, where employment rates consistently rank amongst the lowest in the country. These conditions may not read well if you are under 25, and this is evidenced by a number of different reports suggesting young people fear a lack of relevant career opportunities and have little confidence in accessing quality, appropriate jobs.

The proportion of people in work is used as an indicator of economic performance nationally, and a way of measuring deprivation locally. Employment rates fluctuate up and down the country, and across time. With employment figures in the United Kingdom standing at a record high we have real concerns over quality of the jobs being created.

Our report called stuck at the start shows that once young people enter the world of work they are getting a raw deal at work too. Low pay, few opportunities to progress and a feeling that nothing will change often dominate their working lives. But this is through no fault of their own. Many of the barriers facing young workers are structural and outside of their control, including; wage stagnation, concentrated in low paying jobs, lack of access to the skills development to get on in work, especially vulnerable to insecure work. Young workers are in desperate need of a voice at work.

The average young worker is only £42 a week better off than young workers were 20 years ago. Yet the average older worker is £95 a week better off – more than double the rate of younger workers. Given the rapid rise in living costs over this period, young workers are suffering the brunt of insecure work, weak employment rights and low pay. We know most young people are employed in the private sector service economy.

Only 1 in 20 young workers are in a union.
Drawing by Chris Coulter

Barely more than one in 20 are in a union.

And we know from our research that many young people haven’t even heard of unions. That they have low expectations of work, don’t necessarily trust their colleagues and feel a sense of futility about their ability to change things.

These are the realities facing young people. Young people aren’t anti-union, in fact they share our values.

And there are some brilliant examples of young workers getting themselves organised.

Like the young people at McDonalds who took on one of the world’s largest multinationals. Fed up with low pay, irregular shifts and bullying managers, they went on strike. And won a pay rise and guaranteed hours from a famously anti-union firm.

The TUC has been working with hundreds of young, unorganised people in the private sector, understanding their issues.

And in June, we launched a new model of trade unionism for young workers; WorkSmart

Following the launch of the pilot we will learn how young workers interact with WorkSmart and what the demand is. The hope to find out if the concept works and to learn what need to do to expand the offer.

As we celebrate our 150th anniversary it falls on us to organise the next generation to lay the groundwork for our next 150 years.

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