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Guest Blog: It’s our time and our pay – so why are young people exploited at work?

As a young person, I have experienced my fair share of insecure employment over the course of my career. In the past, I have undertaken unpaid trial shifts to find a job, and have been actively discouraged from joining a trade union by an exploitative workplace. The ‘Your Time, Your Pay’ report from the Equality Trust highlights that my experience isn’t an isolated one. 

A card advertising the launch of this report on 25 April

Sign up to the free launch of the Your Time Your Pay Report! Join us at 6pm on Tuesday 25 April to hear about our polling, focus groups, and conclusions. Get your EventBrite ticket now.

As the report shows, 2/3 of young people enter the workforce with no education on employment rights. We are ill-equipping generations of young people who are forced to navigate the world of employment on their own. This is particularly hard if you don’t have a strong support system which can inform you of your rights. 

My friends and I only understood what we were worth when we pooled our collective knowledge and experience together. But therein lies the problem. Speaking about out our rights has become a taboo issue; we don’t know we’re being exploited until we talk about it. 

We have lived through decades of trade union criticism by the media and successive governments, and alarmingly this report highlights how 1/5 of respondents don’t feel comfortable joining a union. 

To avoid getting caught in the exploitation trap of insecure employment, we must normalise having these conversations. This important interjection from the Equality Trust is a good first step in tackling the problem. 

I am thankful to have worked with the Trust as part of two focus groups with other young people, setting the questions for the Survation poll and analysing the results for the now published report. I was delighted to be paid for my time working on this project. However, this should be the standard, not the exception. 

As an Unpaid Britain report demonstrated, £3 billion of lost wages occurs each year from exploitative unpaid labour. The Equality Trust found that wage theft from young people was at least £150m each year – and could be as much as £1.65bn. Young people aren’t being allowed to contribute properly to the economy. 

Following the Equality Trust’s recommendation, the Government must ban unpaid trial shifts.

The picture isn’t the same across all regions of the UK, with young people from the North East of England being more likely to be asked to work for no pay. 

The situation is worse for women and minorities, who are statistically likely to have received less employment education and are more likely to be asked to work for free. 

The pandemic further entrenched this inequality; young people were seen as expendable, with under 25s accounting for 60% of all job losses. 

At the ripe old age of 25, I have only just begun to understand my pension. It didn’t shock me to see that 40% of respondents said they didn’t understand their own entitlements. 

Pension inequality is embedded as under 22s are not automatically enrolled in pension schemes.

This report calls for automatic pension enrollments to be expanded to qualifying over-16s.

We even experience wage discrimination between age brackets as under 23s receive a lower rate of pay than their slightly older counterparts. 

We are therefore calling for the Government to abolish National Minimum Wage rates on age and uprate all under 23-year olds to at least the National Living Wage of £10.47 from April 2023. 

We all face the same cost of living crisis and deserve the same fair wage.

It’s our time, and it’s our pay.

Guest blog from Finn Oldfield, one of several young people who collaborated with us on the Your Time Your Pay report. Twitter: @FinnOldfield

Sign up to the free launch of the Your Time Your Pay Report! Join us at 6pm on Tuesday 25 April to hear about our polling, focus groups, and conclusions. Get your EventBrite ticket now.

This is a guest blog and the views of the authors are not necessarily those of The Equality Trust