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Coronavirus has shown why young workers need unions

Jack Whiston
Jack Whiston
19th November 2020

Coronavirus has had a massive cascading impact across all walks of life, and especially on young workers. The impacts that we have suffered not only effect our present but our futures too. The wave of redundancies that saw many young workers forced out of their careers and livelihoods will have a significant impact in both the short term and long term.

With increased unemployment, we will struggle to find new work with less experience to offer than other parts of the job market. These career gaps will impact our skill set and may see those workers who are young now struggle to keep up with other age groups in the future.

Under 25s are more likely to be furloughed than any other age group. In just the first three months of lockdown, half of eligible 16 to 24-year-olds were placed on the scheme, compared with one in four 45-year-olds. This is because of the disproportionately high young workforce in sectors like hospitality and retail, where it isn’t possible to work from home.

The pandemic has highlighted why trade unions are so important to young workers. As a group the work we do means we are more vulnerable than other groups, and we need someone in our corner. We’re also the most likely group to be exploited by employers, and are the least likely to know and understand our rights at work.

Trade unions like my union Community offer support when and where it’s needed the most. In the workplace, Community and its reps are constantly fighting for better rights and a fair say on decisions that affect us. To help those who find themselves out of work and needing to find a new job or reskill for a job in a new industry, Community has been on hand supporting workers with CV writing, and other skills and retraining opportunities.

As a young worker and union activist I can personally attest to the great work that trade unions are doing. Like the furlough scheme, without trade unions the country wouldn’t have the furlough scheme as it is today. The union movement pushed for the better terms which has saved me and many other young workers from losing our livelihoods.

Yet, when it’s so important that young workers are part of a union, only  4.7% of union members are young, when 14% of the UK workforce are. If things keep going the way they are going, we will see a decline in the size of the union movement, and with that all of us will lose the option to have a strong collective voice at work. It will also mean the voices of workers as a collective across the UK are less likely to be considered by government and employers.

We as young workers must stand together now, to better our futures, our quality of life and the lives of our families. Let’s not settle for less in the workplace and ensure us and our colleagues are treated fairly. We need to push for greater equality and protection in the workplace, this can best be achieved with the strength of the collective that comes from a trade union.

Trade unions only have that strength if people like you and me are members.

So when our future depends on trade unionism, join me as a member of Community today and together let’s make the world of work better.

Find out more about the work Community is doing to support and represent young workers here.