Together member: STUC (Scottish Trade Union Congress)
Children and young people must be protected from work which is exploitative, harmful to their physical or mental health, or that interferes with their education. Governments must have penalties for employers who break the rules.
“The rights of young people in the workplace need to be prioritised and respected.”
Jack Norquoy MSYP (SYP Rights Review, April 2018)
STUC’s ‘Better Than Zero’ team were contacted by Shona, a 17-year-old girl. Shona is still at school and has a part-time job in a coffee chain. She was having some issues at work and needed advice. When STUC met with her, it transpired that her job and how she was being treated by her manager were having a detrimental impact on her mental health and wellbeing.
“Shona explained that her manager would often call and text her during the school day to ask her to come into work. So much pressure was put on her that she ended up truanting school so she could go into work. During a store refurbishment she was frequently asked to get a taxi to different stores, meaning she key holding responsibilities with no training. Shona was required to pay for these taxis herself… Shona was scared to speak to anyone at school, or her family, about what was going on with her manager. Shona missed so much school that she ended up failing her exams, despite being predicted to achieve very good… When she was in work, she wasn’t allowed to take any rest breaks… Shona regularly worked without breaks and was never given back the time. Her manager simply told her that no one gets breaks.
The stress of this, and of hiding it all from her mum, lead to Shona experiencing mental health problems. She had to take several months off work due to stress.
On Shona’s return to work, her manager asked for the contact details of her counsellor. Shona took this as her employer wanted to check up on her, causing more stress and upset. On top of this Shona, who is contracted for 16 hours, is now regularly refused her contracted hours and is solely at the mercy of her managers moods.”
In 2017, Young Scot conducted research in collaboration with the Scottish Government. Results from workshops found that many young people find it difficult to get into full-time employment and report negative early experiences of the world of work, including exploitation or unfair treatment. Examples included not being paid what they had been promised, not being given holiday pay, being made redundant with little or no notice or explanation, widespread use of zero hours contracts, and extended work experience placements with no guarantee of a job at the end.
For some young people in Scotland, particularly those who were still at school, part-time work is a source of extra money to pay for luxuries. However, for others, it is an essential source of income without which they would be unable to continue their studies. For these young people, working too many hours was reported to have a negative impact on attainment, contributing to even higher levels of stress and anxiety.
Overarching powers around employment are reserved to Westminster and the UK Government. The current law states that children and young people are allowed to work but only if their safety, health, development and education are not put at risk. More detailed rules are set by local authority byelaws so the picture can differ somewhat across Scotland.
Currently, when a young workers’ rights are not respected, the onus falls on them to raise the issue and hold the employer to account. Information from Citizens’ Advice Scotland advises young people to raise informal grievances with employers to resolve issues, with the formal option being an employment tribunal. However, lack of knowledge of their rights, coupled with the power imbalance between employers and young employees, shortage of information and advice services, and fears of losing their job leave young workers feeling disempowered to challenge the situation.
Recent moves have been made to make children and young people more aware of their rights in the workplace. In 2017, the Scottish Government and Clan Childlaw published a guide for young people between 13 years and school-leaving age setting out the type of work they can be asked to do at different ages, and the number of hours they can be asked to work. Incorporating the UNCRC would strengthen this approach, helping to cultivate a culture of rights education meaning young workers can identify when their rights have been infringed.
However, raising awareness of rights must be coupled with adequate support for young workers to help them challenge when their rights are infringed. Having a service with trained advisors to speak to is key for assisting young people. Incorporation of the UNCRC would lend additional legal weight to grievances brought by young employees, and would provide the additional push needed to ensure that young workers’ rights are not overlooked by adult-focused policies and services.