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.



We need to put an end to zero hour contacts

by Elaine Dougall, Unite Scotland Regional Women and Equalities Officer 


These type of contracts mean:

Zero hours

Zero holidays

Zero sick pay

The use of zero hour contracts in workplaces across the UK exploits workers rights and dignity. Zero hours contacts give employers the right to not pay you when you’re on holiday or sick. These contracts mean that workers have no guaranteed weekly hours or income, only being paid for the work they do. Therefore from week to week you don’t know the wage you are going to get.

A recent survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development highlighted that over 1 million workers are on these types of contracts. Moreover, the survey found that the majority of workers who are on zero hours contracts are 18 – 24 years old.

Young people still need to pay to live just like everyone else. The worry is, for many young women and men who are trying to earn enough just to live – what will they turn to get a living wage?

Zero hours contracts are beneficial for employers as it gives a high degree of flexibility. For example, during a busy period in a particular industry the employer can give you hours. But, when they are quiet they will let you go and have little regard for your bills, rent or life.

Unite are trying to eradicate these contracts. Unite has called on the Scottish Government to reform its public procurement agenda in order to tackle the rise of employment rights abuses across our economy. Unite have also set up a survey which you can fill in here.

The exploitation of workers needs to stop.