Archive article from The Socialist Issue 355
Archive article from The Socialist Issue 355
'Use once and throw away': why young workers are the 'Kleenex generation'
Fight For Your Rights At Work
ARE YOU a young worker fed up with low pay, bullying bosses, long hours and unsafe working conditions?
International Socialist Resistance (ISR) is launching a campaign against low pay and exploitation of young workers.
Below the socialist looks at some of the conditions young workers face today, and prints extracts from ISR's new Fight for Your Rights campaign pack.
"We've got our own ward"
I WORKED for just over six months at a factory packing engine parts and aeroplane parts. That was minimum wage. There were about 70 people working there. The health and safety conditions were terrible - some people joked to me: "We've got our own ward in Queen's Medical Centre".
Martyn Crooks, Nottingham
When I was there a guy got a six-inch nail through his leg using nail guns that were faulty. It went right through his leg, right through his bone. He had about six weeks off, and the minute that they took him out on a stretcher, management clocked him out. Accidents have also happened to a lot of other people. It's joked about all the time.
I got no health and safety training at all when I worked there. There was a lot of band saws, the sawmill and things like that. My foreman would try to bully me into getting under his forklift truck as he was taking things off lorries - which is against health and safety, I know that.
I just quoted the law that said I don't have to put myself in immediate danger to him on more than one occasion. He'd usually come back with some obscenities and tell me that I'd be no good in a war, which was his answer to everything.
One of the reasons I ended up getting the sack was I didn't get on with the foreman because he was a bully. He was a very big, loud man and everyone knew he was a bully, and he was the person who was in charge of training me.
His idea of training was not to tell you what do, but to shout and bawl and swear at you until you got it right, rather than telling you why you do things and how things are done safely.
The union leafleted the workplace - it was the TGWU - but management came and told them to sling their hook and they did. That day in the canteen management said that there'd be no talk of unions here, we can't afford a union, it'd mean you all lose your jobs. So anyone who had any ideas of getting the place union recognised was put off by that.
Young = exempt = extra exploited!
FOOD, BILLS, clothing, travel and other living costs are no cheaper just because we are young. Yet bosses are getting away with using the minimum wage exemptions and lower rates to exploit young workers.
Nearly four million young people between the ages of 16 and 24 are in work.
Almost half of all 16 and 17 year olds are in work today. Three quarters of these are juggling jobs with full-time education.
Almost half of all school-age workers contribute to family income. This is mainly due to the low pay and poverty many families suffer.
Every year, around 25 people between the ages of 16 and 24 are killed at work with a further 18,000 suffering serious injuries. Many hundreds of thousands more suffer from work related injuries or illnesses.
What Is the Current Minimum Wage?
If you're 16 or 17, from 1 October 2004 there will be a minimum wage introduced of £3 an hour. 16 and 17 year old apprentices will be exempt from the new young workers' rate.
If you're under 16 from 1 October 2004, there is still no legal minimum wage.
If you're aged 18-21 (development rate!) then the minimum wage is £3.80 an hour (£4.10 an hour from 1 October 2004.) *
If you're 22 or over then you are entitled to a minimum wage of £4.50 an hour (£4.85 from 1 October 2004).
*The development rate can also apply to workers aged 22 and above during their first six months in a new job with a new employer and who are receiving accredited training.
They Treat Us With Contempt
I WAS pleased that I managed to get a job as a casual at the civil service. I have no illusions about the government's record on workers' rights, but still I thought a reasonably organised union workplace would give me some rights.
A civil service worker, Swansea
But just like being an agency worker, being a casual is an uncertain and insecure existence. My job was on a new project and me and 90 staff were all taken on with a casual contract that stated that the project was due to last for four months but could end at any time.
Casuals have worse terms and conditions than permanent civil service staff. Take the policy on sickness absence. The civil service agency I work for is 'cracking down' on this for everyone, but if you are casual, the policy is 'three strikes and you are out.'
At the beginning the manager warned us that casuals were only allowed two separate occasions for sickness or we wouldn't get offered another job after the project ended. Unfortunately, on my team two of my workmates were ill on three different occasions.
Although they could produce sick notes from the doctor (in fact one had a serious stomach condition and had each time been in intensive care in hospital) this did not matter. Both were sacked.
In fact although I worked in a team of 20, within six months five had been sacked (three for different offences) and three had resigned. My supervisor gained the reputation of 'Arnie - the terminator' - because she sacked so many of us.
None of the sacked five were union members and none were informed that (if they'd been union members) they'd have access to union representation at each stage of the disciplinary procedure.
When we first started our supervisors told us about the PCS union but it was hardly a hard sell. We were told the PCS got you various discounts and 'sorted out pay and things like that.' Unsurprisingly most didn't bother joining (apart from me), as they didn't see the point.
Because we worked in a different building to the main site where there were PCS full-time officials we were not recruited to the union. So unfortunately for us casuals the union didn't exist.
The project has been a nightmare for all of us - it was developed in conjunction with an IT contractor that is apparently totally incompetent. From the start, we ran into serious technical problems that meant the sustainability of the project was uncertain to say the least.
We were often sent home early and twice, for quite lengthy periods, were redeployed to the main site to do other work as the company tried desperately to solve the problems.
We (the casual admin staff) were treated with total contempt, as if we have no right to secure employment, no right to know if we have jobs in the next few weeks. As it stands the project has managed to limp on (although some of us have been lucky enough to escape).
Many have resigned or are resigning because they are sick of the way we are being treated and need to find other jobs.
YOUNG PEOPLE are the future of the unions and many young people are in casual and agency work so the importance of getting them into the union is urgent.
At this year's PCS conference a campaign to get as many young workers as possible to join and get active in the union was launched to help ensure every union branch campaigns and fights on behalf of all its members.
Your legal rights at work
NOT ONLY are we told we have to accept low pay, we are also regularly denied our rights at work. Below are just some of the rights you have:
All workers, including agency, casual and part-time workers have the right to join a trade union, even if a trade union is not officially recognised in your workplace.
Take a break
NB: There are different regulations for different sections of workers, such as for the transport sector. Get advice if you think this may affect you or if you are not getting your breaks.
Health and Safety
Your agency must give you 'written' terms just like any other employer, which tell you:
Where We Fight, We Win
TRADE UNIONS are an expression of the fact that the system is unjust and based on exploitation. By organising in a union, workers challenge the bosses' view of us as merely a source of profit for them.
Len Hockey, UNISON rep, Whipps Cross hospital, London.
The experience of low-paid workers at Whipps Cross Hospital during their strike last summer shows clearly that when you organise and fight you win.
These workers including cleaners and porters, mainly women and many from Africa, overcame huge obstacles through a unionisation campaign that went on to win pay increases forcing the private contractor and NHS Trust to end the two-tier workforce (inequality of treatment between workers doing the same jobs).
From 60 members at the start out of 360, union membership rose to just under 300. Their struggle forced up the hourly rate from £4.30 to a new minimum of £5 an hour plus lump-sum payments, increases in holidays and unsocial hours payments.
What Is A Trade Union?
A TRADE union is an organisation formed by workers, for workers, to fight for our rights together. By yourself, the boss can ignore you, pick on you and fire you - and who will support you?
The idea of a trade union is 'strength in numbers'. A trade union unites all workers doing a certain job, or working at a certain place or in a particular industry. For example, many workers in the public sector (hospitals, local councils etc.) are organised in UNISON.
Unions in Britain were originally formed by workers well over 100 years ago when there was next to no protection or rights for workers.
In many cases they refused to work until their demands for better pay or shorter working hours were met.
Many of these strikes were illegal but, faced with empty factories producing nothing and cutting their profits, and fearing protests and demonstrations, employers and the government were often forced to improve wages and conditions.
From the start, there was also a struggle by union members to try to make sure their unions were fighting and democratic, for example where the membership elect their leaders and hold them accountable, making sure the union fights for their members' rights at all times. These debates and struggles are still going on today.
Fight For A Socialist Alternative
BRITAIN IS the world's fourth richest country. The gap between the rich and poor has never been greater. This is because we live under capitalism which always puts private profit before the needs of people. This system is run for greed, power and wealth by and for the few while the majority of people are forced to live in poverty.
If this system can't afford to pay us a living wage, provide us with a decent education, affordable homes or give young people a decent future we can't afford this system. We are fighting for a socialist society based on need and not profit which can abolish poverty pay and meet the needs of everyone.
WHILE WORKING in a factory through an employment agency on 12-hour shifts, the boss decided without notice to take our chairs away to try and get even more work out of us.
Helen, young worker from Hertford
This meant we had to bend our backs a lot to reach the tables we were working from and in a short space of time we started to get backaches.
We found out this was against the health and safety rules and campaigned together. Within a day our chairs were replaced.
This was a small victory for us and our health and safety conditions. But if we had not stuck together we probably wouldn't have won!