Students United – empowering young people about their rights at work

8 February 2017

We recently caught up with Gabriela Falzon from UnionsACT to learn more about the UnionsACT Youth Project, Students United. The project is currently being developed to educate and empower young people about their rights at work. Here, Gabriela explains where the motivation for the project began, and why such programs are particularly important for young women who are new to the workforce.

What is UnionsACT?

UnionsACT is the peak organisation for all affiliated Unions in the ACT. It is our job to campaign with working people and disenfranchised people. We bring activists together under a banner of solidarity and we work to make progressive, radical social change.

Tell us about the Students United Program?

Students United is a network of young people we are establishing through contact with college, university and TAFE students around the ACT. It is the aim of this network to empower and educate young people around rights at work and fight for better treatment and conditions. The union will always stand to show the faces of the vulnerable and demand their voices be heard.

The sad truth is that young people are disproportionately exploited at work. This need to change, and it can change when young people unite through advocacy and education. For this reason, it is our goal to make sure that young workers know what their rights and responsibilities are.

How did the program come about?

We have always been aware of how unfairly young people can be treated in jobs. Because of the shift towards unstable and casual work young people are often in positions of vulnerability and powerlessness. This is part of a broader, structural problem that is moving the job market in a direction that is unfair for workers and catering to the interests of business above people. We don’t believe this reflects values of human respect and equality; young people especially should be looked after by society.

This network of young people is a direct response to the fact that we have a work culture in which more than half of young adults have done unpaid work. The work that young people do should be valued, there is never an excuse for exploiting workers and we are going to highlight this.

How does the program specifically support young women, and why?

Women make up the majority of people in low paid jobs, a fact contributing to the gender pay gap. In these types of insecure and precarious jobs, workers are in a position of vulnerability. Young women are especially made to feel defenseless due to a power imbalance of both gender and workplace hierarchies. We want to empower young women by giving them the strength that can be found in a collective or union of workers.

What’s next in the development of the program?

We are now in the exciting process of reaching out to schools and talking to college and university students. We are already meeting so many inspiring people and hearing their stories. We will begin with a discussion about what Union means and why it is important before we move on to run activist and leadership events where young people will have the opportunity to meet and learn with the Union movement.

How can young people learn more or get involved?

We are currently running a survey, which is designed to help us find out more about young people’s experiences at work. If you are aged between 14 and 25, you can fill out the survey here. If you would like us to visit your school, college or university or to learn more about what’s next for the Students United project, get in touch at gabrielafalzon@unionsact.org.au. You can also sign up to attend our upcoming volunteer opportunities via our website.

To find out more about UnionsACT, visit the website.

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