Transforming our Unions: a report from the PSA Youth National Conference

Earlier this week the Public Service Association’s Youth Network (PSAY) held its annual conference. 90 members of the PSAY Network met to discuss issues relevant to young workers and build youth participation in the union.  While young workers join the PSA and become delegates at roughly similar rates to their older colleges, they are under-represented in higher bodies such as sector committees and the executive board.

Many of the challenges facing workers today are felt particularly sharply by younger workers.  Low pay and insecure work disproportionately affect the young.  55 % of temporary workers for example, are under 35 years of age, and insecure work without regular hours or with little certainty of ongoing employment is increasingly prevalent amongst those new to the workforce.  Young workers are also more likely to suffer from lower pay and receive smaller pay rises then their older counterparts.  70 % of workers between 20 and 30 and almost all teenaged workers earn less than the living wage and those under 30 account for 43 % of all workers employed for less than $18.40 per hour.  If the union movement is to be an effective force in the 21st century, it must be capable of fighting for young and insecure workers.

Exciting steps are being made in this direction.  CTU President Helen Kelly addressed the conference, highlighting the need to make unions more accessible through initiatives like Together, an organisation formed to support workers who have no union in their workplace, or who are unable to join a traditional union.  Already workers in FIRST Forestry Together have been successful in obtaining an independent review of health and safety in one of New Zealand’s most dangerous industries.  The Living Wage campaign is gathering momentum and challenging local councils to ensure all their employees and contractors are paid a living wage.  Public sector unionists are getting on board and a presentation by Service and Food Workers Union campaigner was enthusiastically received by PSA Youth members.

Unions today face enormous challenges if we are to reverse the increasing inequality that has resulted from a three-decade long bosses offensive.  Increasing youth involvement through networks like PSAY and the CTU’s Stand Up movement  is an essential part of building unions that are up to the challenge of the 21st century.