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.



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*