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Proper wages not pooper scoopers

Michelle Stanistreet speaking at the NUS annual conference  -  © Will Bunce

21 April 2015

Unions are vitally important for young people, Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, told students and that is why they must get active and make sure their voice is heard.

Speaking to the annual conference of the National Union of Students (NUS), she gave praise to I Will….Lead the Way, the  women’s leadership development programme, set up to increase the number of women in elected leadership positions in the student movement, championed by NUS president Toni Pearce.

She said: "I’m often introduced as being the first woman general secretary in our 100-year-plus history – I’m always a tad uncomfortable with that, as whilst of course it’s a great source of pride to lead the NUJ, I can never lose the sense of unease that even in a progressive union it took so long for us to have a woman at the helm. I comfort myself with the thought of the many women who’ll follow in my wake."

She outlined the difficulties for young people in today's labour market:

  • More than half of the 1.4 million zero-hours contract workers are aged under 30.
  • Unpaid internships are rife: 82 per cent of new entrants to journalism had done an internship, of which 92 per cent were unpaid.
  • A survey of workers in the media and arts industries found that more than half of those aged 16-30 said they had been bullied or harassed.

She said:

"One intern I know of, working on an upmarket magazine, was presented with a pooper scooper and told to walk the editor's dog. That is why the NUJ has a campaign, Cashback for Interns. It offers advice on workplace placements and internships, challenges employers who advertise unpaid internships, wins back money for interns who should have been paid and lobbies for enforcement of the law – interns should be paid at least the minimum wage."

She pointed to research which found that, on average, union members take home higher pay, have better sickness and pension benefits, more holiday and flexible working hours.

She told the delegates meeting in Liverpool, her home town and where she was an undergraduate:

"These are all reasons why it is essential for young people to be a member of a union. Yet, union density among people aged 16 to 24 is only 7.7 per cent and this is much lower – at 3.5 per cent – in retail, hotels and bars, the major employers of young people.

"All of you in this hall are the future of the union movement and that is why you should be spreading the word among your peers. Most of you here will graduate and go on to have successful careers, but I'm sure you will, on occasion, work in these bars and hotels and shops. Wherever you work, join your union and encourage other young workers to do the same, to organise collectively for better conditions and to have a voice at work, wherever that happens to be."

Michelle also praised the NUS for its campaign to get young people to register to vote she said:

"I can understand why students feel so let down by the false promises made by politicians. I understand why you are angry about the cuts to education budgets and programmes aimed at the poorest students and pupils.

"Perhaps a few chickens will come home to roost in the constituencies you are targeting with your Liar, Liar posters, aimed at MPs who broke their promise on tuition fees.

"Action is much better than non-action -- and voting is important, whatever Russell Brand says. Fewer than half of young people voted at the last election – if you don't vote, then why should politicians care if they break their promises they make to us or not?"

Tags: , national union of students, cashback for interns, zero hours, bullying, young people, unions, voting, women, conference, interns