Young Workers – Join a Union
Young people who face the scourges of low pay and insecure work need to engage with trade unions.
A great place for unions to start is with the 180,000 students studying on third level campuses across the country.
Every year, SIPTU representatives visit third level colleges in conjunction with the Union of Students in Ireland and embark on targeted site visits to student nursing, healthcare and paramedic courses.
SIPTU organisers and activists run campaign stands, sign young people up to the union and gather signatures for petitions demanding the living wage and secure jobs for all workers.
This year, activists handed out a new Young Worker Survival Guides full of information on workers’ rights and trade unions.
In the last few years, an important partnership has been agreed between SIPTU and the Union of Students in Ireland. Under the agreement, all members of USI can access advice and representation from SIPTU through the Workers’ Rights Centre.
Many young people today face insecurity and hardship in terms of their employment and living standards. In addition to the rising cost of education and housing, young workers often experience precarious working arrangements.
Issues such as low pay, short-term contracts, insecure hours – these were some of the injustices that gave rise to the trade union movement many years ago. Young people today need trade union representation, and trade unions need young people to become members.
Yet while thousands of young people have joined SIPTU in recent years, there is still a very large percentage who are not joining unions. While there are many possible reasons for this, one issue is probably that many young people have never come into contact with a trade union before.
Without having a visible union in their workplace, or having a family tradition of union activism many young people think of trade unions as representing “other” groups of workers.
This is reinforced through the media where most coverage of trade union activity focuses on transport disputes, public sector negotiations etc. – crucial matters but ones which might not seem immediately relevant to many workers in non-unionised parts of the private sector.
Many employment sectors are hostile ground for union organisers and so young workers in these sectors may have never considered joining a union. They might not realise that we represent people in their profession or what the benefits are.
It is crucial that the union movement explores new ways of reaching young people, and SIPTU’s current development plan layout many proposals in this regard.
Increased visibility, campaigning and organising on college campuses can be a crucial part of this. During the college visits, we found great support among the students’ union activists for working with SIPTU.
The USI has adopted strong policies on issues such as the living wage and precarious work.
All workers have the right to fair pay and secure jobs. The growth of precarious work must be challenged. Fairness at work and justice in society are ideas that appeal to all generations.
Through organising into trade unions young workers have a powerful tool for securing these rights, and as Ireland’s largest union, SIPTU can lead the way.