Exploitation what’s your definition?
“My name is Helen. I’m 16. I work in a cafe every Saturday. I used to work from 9 – 6pm, but my manager started asking me to come in at 8am to prepare for opening. I work the extra hour but still only get paid for 8 hours a day. I get a €40 lump sum and no pay slip. Sometimes I don’t get a break until 3pm. It can be really tiring but I need the job so I don’t want to complain about it.”
“My name is Barry. I’m 17. I work as a ‘lounge boy’ in a hotel bar and restaurant. I work two evenings per week and over the weekend. I don’t really get an official ‘break’. It’s too busy on weekends. I work from 6-11, weeknights and 8pm to 2am on Saturday night although sometimes it’s later. I always get the same lump sum no matter how many hours I work. Sometimes when it’s busy and my manager is stressed he orders me to do things in an aggressive way, and questions me about why something isn’t done in a confrontational manner. I find it really humiliating.
My name is Stacey I work in a local supermarket, I was paid a training wage of €3.03 while I was been trained in over a week. My friend was fired without warning via text because she couldn’t make one of the training days due to illness”.
The above people are fictional but their stories are based on real stories that Youth Connect heard in the classrooms last year. During 2013/2014 we conducted over 460 school visits, delivering approximately 735 classes to over 20,000 of your peers. We keep the groups small so that everyone gets the opportunity to share their experiences and through a mixture of presentations, interactive activities and informal Q&A, we delve into the world of work. By the end of every lesson we ensure that all students know their basic working rights as regards to pay, breaks, working hours, pay slips, contracts, bullying, and harassment. We talk through the options students can take to resolve negative experiences, and the benefits of joining a trade union for support. All of our lessons explore some aspect of the Decent Work Campaign: past, present or future.
Decent Work is work that recognises your rights and guarantees a decent standard of living. Among other things it is productive work that delivers a fair income and decent hours in a safe work environment. It provides fair treatment, the freedom to express concerns and the right not to be discriminated against based on age – it is a wide-ranging concept that in essence captures the agenda of the trade union movement. Decent Work is relevant to all workers, young and old.
This year we have a new lesson that looks at inequality and the relevance of the Decent Work Campaign for young people. This is an important topic today in a period identified by a widening income gap and income inequality that sees large numbers of young workers at the low end of the pay scale.
Education, in particular third-level education plays a vital role when it comes to higher income and earnings later in life and ensuring there are more opportunities available to you in the job market. However during school and college lots of young workers are employed in part-time, temporary or casual jobs in typically low-paid industries such as fast-food, retail, bar & hotel, catering, leisure & entertainment and promotional work.The reality for young people more often than not is that these are temporary jobs and not planned career areas, so there can be a temptation to ‘put-up with’ inadequate or poor working conditions. Due to the transient and temporary nature of young part-time and casual staff, some irresponsible employers choose to not comply with formal regulations.
So while on the surface it might look attractive that ‘Helen’ and ‘Barry’ are getting a few bob every week and valuable workplace experience, under the surface is a less attractive picture. Many of the stories we are told involve breaches of protective legislation, of working beyond the maximum hours allowed and paid under the minimum wage entitlement. Economic exploitation can be defined as using someone’s labour without offering them fair reward. If we accept that what is fair is what you are legally entitled to, then denying you your legal entitlements is exploitation.
Learning to assert your rights is an important life skill; you can stand up for your rights as a student by getting involved in your student council; you can stand up for your rights as a young citizen by getting involved in local and national campaigns that address youth issues, and if you are a young worker you can stand up for your rights by informing yourself and joining a trade union.
We often get asked about who can join a trade union. There is a simple answer- everyone. In fact it is one of your basic human rights. Many unions have low monthly contribution rates for part-time workers, and contributing to a trade union is as much about supporting the achievement of ‘Decent Work’ for all workers, young and old, as it is about protecting your own rights.
We can all list off most of our basic human rights, but when it comes to our employment rights research shows that we aren’t as clued in. But why is this? Once the transition from education to employment is made most people spend the majority of their time in work. Loving it, hating it, feeling stressed by it, feeling fulfilled by it; whatever the case may be the majority of us need it and for something we spend the majority of our lives doing we should damn well demand that it doesn’t exploit us. So stand up for your working rights! And if you are under 18, it’s good to know that one of your entitlements under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is ‘The right to know about your rights and responsibilities’
Youth Connect has regional ‘Champions’ in the Midlands, Southeast, Southwest, Northeast, Dublin and West available to visit your school and talk to students about their rights and responsibilities. All our lessons and workshops are FREE and we provide each school with 2 copies of our 6 module teaching resource manual. We have three lesson options: ‘An introduction to the Working World: rights and responsibilities’, ‘The history of the 1913 Lockout and struggle for Decent Work’, and ‘Income Inequality and how Decent Work can address it’. We also run the annual Youth for Decent Work Awards which celebrate student’s engagement with the Decent Work theme through video. The prize for best video is a five day team trip to New York. Go to our website www.youth-connect.ie for all the details of this year’s competition.
Youth Connect is the educational and engagement programme of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions [ICTU] aimed at students and young workers. Developed with ASTI, INTO, TUI and ISSU and funded by the trade union movement.