In 2021, we’ve seen how important our public service workers are and how undervalued they can be. We’ve also seen young workers hit hardest by the pandemic. Whether through rising unemployment or because they work in sectors of the economy hard hit by the financial crisis and furlough, their job prospects and pay has been struck.
In addition to the poor state of jobs, young workers’ mental health has been targeted; a key theme throughout the motions debated at last weekend’s first ever UNISON National Young Members Conference, where delegates from the South East and across the UK gathered to discuss a variety of motions impacting young workers, from climate change to quality job progression.
On the Friday evening, Shavanah Taj (pictured above), General Secretary of Wales TUC opened the Conference and told delegates how she started her activism in young members organisations. Ms Taj also spoke about the TUC’s priorities and how moving forward, the trade union movement needs more young workers active and engaged to continue to achieve workplace victories.
On Saturday, Jon Richards (pictured above), UNISON Assistant General Secretary brought a message of solidarity from General Secretary Christina McAnea and informed delegates of UNISON’s current industrial action strategy.
Among motions from other regions and national committees throughout the weekend on issues affecting young people in our workplaces, there were a number moved for debate by South East delegates.
Mark Inch, from Portsmouth Health branch, moved the South East Young Members’ Forum amendment to motion which called for additional resources and materials for branches on how to utilise UNISON’s existing bargaining guides to encourage LGBT+ friendly workplaces, that are supportive and inclusive of LGBT+ issues inside and outside of the workplace.
The Conference also welcomed key-note speaker, Angela Rayner MP (pictured below), Deputy Leader of the Labour Party. Ms Rayner described how she started her trade union journey as a young member in UNISON and how as a young mum working as a care worker, UNISON became her family. She went on to emphasise how workers shouldn’t be putting up with poor treatment at work; “[public service workers] are under appreciated and low paid, just because you’re low paid doesn’t mean you’re low skilled”.
Ms. Rayner then took questions from the Conference. Mark Inch, from Portsmouth Health branch raising the increasing privatisation of the NHS. Ms. Rayner was clear that the NHS should be run for public interest in the public sector; not within the private healthcare system: “We will fight tooth and nail to make sure the next Labour government will end privatisation”, she said.
Luca Di Mambro-Moor, Young Members’ Officer at Surrey County branch, moved the National Young Members’ Forum motion “Young Workers and Quality Job Development and Progression”. Against a “backdrop of 10 years of wage stagnation, the cost of living spiralling out of control and the commercialisation of the housing market forcing people’s rents to unaffordable levels”, we must ensure good quality career progression for everyone, particularly those most affected like young workers.
The Conference also included a panel discussion with Clare Williams, Northern Regional Secretary; Anna Liddle, researcher; and winner of the first young Black members award, Funmi Ayeni from the South East region. The panel responded to a variety of questions on how as a union, we can increase engagement and participation from our young members. Ms Williams highlighted the importance of not using jargon or off-putting language when trying to get people involved. Ms Ayeni agreed and added that as a union we need to continue to find new ways, such as through social media, to reach young workers.
The final day of the Conference was opened by Andrea Egan (pictured above), Vice-Chair of the National Executive Council (NEC). Thanking delegates for all their work in the pandemic, she gave delegates an overview of UNISON’s current work and urged delegates to get involved in the pay campaigns in the union’s service groups.
Acknowledging the enormous challenges UNISON faces, Andrea assured the Conference that the union would not be cowed by these challenges and encouraged young members to think about their next steps in union activism, whether this be standing for office, or joining their branch’s delegation to the national delegate conference next June.