Know your rights and join a trade union

by Jillian Merchant, Thompsons Scotland

Know your rights and join a trade union!

 Entering into the workplace can be a daunting experience for young people, particularly in the current economic climate. For many, this will be your first experience of the world of work and is vital that you are aware of your employment rights and the legal duties placed on employers to protect the health and safety and welfare of all their workers.

Young people are more likely to be injured at work or suffer ill health as a result of their work, due to their inexperience, and it is a concern that some employers may seek to take advantage of that inexperience and deny young workers even the most basis of rights.

Recent changes in legislation and the ever increasing use of zero hours, temporary and casual contracts mean that it is essential you are aware of your employment rights.

The following are basic employment rights that you should be aware of when entering the workplace:

  • Written Statement of Particulars of Employment – Within 8 weeks of starting work the employer is required to give you a written statement of particulars of employment including the express contractual terms such as pay, hours, holidays and length of notice to end the relationship.
  • Wages – The National Minimum Wage of those 21 and over is currently £6.31 per hour; if you are aged between 18-20 it is £5.03 p/h and £3.72 p/h for under 18 years. For apprentices under 19 years old or over 19 but in the first year of their apprenticeship it is £2.68 p/h.
  • Holidays – All workers are entitled to a minimum of 5.6 weeks paid leave per year. Generally the pay you receive should be the same as for a normal week’s work. If you have no normal working hours, a week’s pay is calculated on a weekly average over a 12 week period, including overtime.
  • Breaks – You are entitled to a break of at least 20 minutes if your working day is longer than 6 hours. This does not have to be paid. If you are 16 or 17 you are entitled to a break of at least 30 minutes when you work for 4 ½ hours or more.

Unfortunately, due to recent changes made by the UK Government, many young people do not have protection against unfair dismissal. If you start employment after 06 April 2012 you will only accrue this right after you have been employed in the same job with the same employer for 2 years. If you started your job before 06 April 2012 however, you will be able to claim unfair dismissal after 1 year of employment. There are, in addition, a variety of automatically unfair reasons which do not require such a qualifying period. If you are dismissed you only have 3 months minus 1 day from the date of dismissal to raise a claim at the Employment Tribunal.

Given the lack of employment rights generally open to young people, for the reasons set out above, I recommend that all young workers join a trade union. If there is a union at your workplace, I would recommend joining that union. If, however, there is not a workplace trade union you are still entitled to join a trade union, even if there is no recognised one. A trade union is one of the best ways to collectively organise with fellow employees and fight for better terms and conditions. Some unions have lower rates for student members or part time workers which can help if you are not earning a lot from your job.

Jillian Merchant is a Solicitor in the Employment Team with Thompsons Scotland. Thompsons Employment Team work exclusively for employees involved in employment disputes and recently won the Employment Firm of the Year at the Law Awards of Scotland.



Facing barriers as a young woman in politics

by Siobhan McMahon MSP

A member of the Scottish Parliament

I am very privileged to be a Member of the Scottish Parliament; it is something I am extremely proud of. But it wasn’t an easy road to walk along in order to get where I am today.

Standing for election

Standing for election is a hard and difficult process for anyone to go through however I found that being a young woman brings its own unique challenges to the process.  I remember having a discussion with Johann Lamont around the time I was thinking of putting my name forward to be considered for the list in Central Scotland.  I was telling her that I wasn’t sure I should apply for the process as I didn’t feel at the age of 25 that I was old enough to be considered.  The response Johann gave me has always stuck with me; she said “Do you think a man your age would think the same thing?” At that time I thought well it would depend on the situation they find themselves in. How wrong was I!

Having made the decision to stand and then put everything I had into my campaign to get the party members to support me I was shocked to find myself get to number 3 on the list. However that wasn’t the end of the story.  The party had decided to ‘zip’ the female or ethnic minority candidate with the highest number of votes to the top of the list meaning that in the end I was number 1 for Central Scotland.  The truth is I’m not entirely comfortable with zipping and I’m not sure if I would have taken my seat in Parliament had we not got 3 candidates elected from the list. But that was the process my Party had agreed so that’s the process I had to live with.

Facing barriers as a young woman in politics

It won’t surprise many of you reading this to know that the decision to zip a woman to number 1 didn’t go down too well with a number of male (and female) members in my area. One man in particular went so far as to say that I should be ashamed of myself and that I should resign my position as it was ridiculous that a woman could get to the dizzy heights of number 1 in our area.

I was shocked that such an attitude would not only exist in 2010 but that it was shared and in such an aggressive manner. Had I thought about resigning my position, given my own thoughts about the zipping process, this made my mind up that I wouldn’t be going anywhere!

Supporting young women in politics

A number of colleagues supported me throughout this process but a few did not.  This was my first real experience of sexism and it is one that I will never forget.  It’s hard enough being judged as a female politician by how you look, what you wear, how you do your hair. But to have the very people who should be backing you throughout that process undermining you and your confidence is something I never want another woman to experience.

I’m glad I went through the process and I was delighted to be elected.  I never tire of going to events in my local area as an MSP for Central Scotland and seeing that same man there. I hope I act as a reminder to him of what his actions spurred me on to do!

My message to other women who have to go through similar experiences is never doubt your own ability and let those who try to put you off spur you on to do great things.

Why vote Yes?

Gail Lythgoe, Executive Assistant at Yes Scotland

A Yes vote is a vote for taking control of our own future. That’s what we want for our own lives – to stand on our own two feet, to make our own decisions and to achieve our full potential.  Why should it be any different for Scotland?  Another 200 countries are independent, so why aren’t we?

There is no doubt that Scotland is a wealthy country.  Even the Prime Minister has agreed that Scotland could be another successful independent country.

Yet one in four of our children are growing up in poverty, too many young people are finding it hard to find jobs, and too many jobs are low paid.  It’s so hard to make ends meet that people are now reduced to looking to foodbanks for help.  The UK is one of the most unequal countries in the developed world, and the gap between the richest and poorest just gets bigger.  As part of the UK, this generation of young people will be the first for decades to be less well off than our parents.

Given how wealthy Scotland is, this is not acceptable. None of this needs to happen.

I’ve grown up with the Scottish Parliament making decisions on issues like health and education. The value of taking our own decisions has been plain to see. In Scotland, we have chosen to make free higher education a right for all, basing access to our world-class universities and colleges on the ability to learn, not the ability to pay. We’ve increased childcare provision and established a principle of early intervention to help guide and nurture the lives of children.

With the powers Scotland already has, remarkable things have been achieved.

There is so much more we could do if we had the full powers of independence.

We could take steps to increase good job opportunities, increase the minimum wage, reverse unfair cuts to benefits and improve rights to childcare and parental rights.

Instead, we are stuck with unfair and unwelcome policies from the UK Government, which are particularly harmful for young people and for women.  For example, welfare cuts are hitting women hardest in the pocket. The Westminster government is making life harder for women through cuts to important public services, and by weakening employment rights, such as the right to claim for unfair dismissal.  With prices and bills rocketing and wages declining, we are all being hit hard financially.  Studies show that this is especially true for young people.

A Yes vote means that we will be the first generation in Scotland to truly determine our own futures. It’s a hugely exciting opportunity – I’m voting Yes to live in a Scotland of progress and possibility.

For young people in Scotland, that has to be the right choice for our future – that’s got to be an opportunity worth saying Yes to.

To find out more about what we could achieve with a Yes vote, please visit or find us on Facebook or Twitter.

*The SWC are holding a conference on The Referendum on the 25th January 2014. We will have speakers from the Yes and Better Together campaigns. If you would like come along please email*

Why are we Better Together?

Carys Hughes, Activist from Women Together

Next year people in Scotland will make the biggest political decision of our lives; whether to remain a part of the UK or go it alone. The referendum gives us the opportunity to look at our priorities and decide how we can best address the things that matter to us.

As a young woman, I want to use this opportunity to bring a whole range of issues to the forefront of current political debate, from tackling the gender pay gap to rooting out the scourge of domestic violence, as well as looking at how we can take action to ensure young girls around the world can access the education they are entitled to.

Concern about the impact that separation from the rest of the UK would have on our daily lives is truly universal, but it is vital that women’s voices are heard when it comes to the economic debate. The economy is fundamental to women’s lives; tough economic times hit us the hardest, and negatively impacts on the fight for gender equality. Reading the leaked Government Cabinet paper raised concerns about what it would mean for me to be a young woman in an independent Scotland. The paper outlined plans for cuts to public sector jobs, pensions and welfare spending, yet it is women that are more likely to work in the public sector and in part-time jobs – often the first to be cut. Women pensioners are more likely to be in poverty and as parents and carers, women are more likely to be in receipt of welfare support.

On a more personal level, I’m in my final year of University and I don’t want there to be any barriers to finding a good job when I graduate. I know I’m not alone when I say that I don’t want to jeopardise the opportunities we have as part of a bigger UK.  The size, strength and stability of the UK economy meant the UK Government was able to intervene during the global financial crisis and save banks from collapsing. This protected the savings and mortgages of thousands of Scots, saved thousands of Scottish jobs and averted economic meltdown. The advantages of that bigger UK economy are clear – we have the ability to pool and share risk and reward in order to avoid and weather the worst of economic storms.

I firmly believe that right now Scotland has the best of both worlds; we have our strong Scottish Parliament, with a strong track record of female representation and focussing on the issues affecting women.  But we also have the strength and security that comes from being part of the wider UK.

That is why this year I helped to launch Women Together.  Our grassroots network of women will hold events in towns and cities across the country, to listen to women’s views, creating a space to look at how we can achieve our priorities as well as get involved in our campaign for Scotland in the UK.

*The SWC are holding a conference on The Referendum on the 25th January 2014. We will have speakers from the Yes and Better Together campaigns. If you would like come along please email*