Three quarters of young workers miss out on key employment rights, TUC research has revealed

  • 30 Nov 2023

TUC says Labour’s New Deal for Working People would be “life changing” for young people by giving them rights, banning zero-hours contracts and removing age bands from the minimum wage.

A  TUC report published reveals that nearly three-quarters (72%) of young employees aged 16 to 24 miss out on key employment rights at work. 

While some workplace rights for employees begin from day one of employment, others only kick in after two years of continuous service – including protection from unfair dismissal and the right to statutory redundancy pay. The new report – published at the end of TUC’s Young Workers’ Month – shows that employees aged 16 to 24 are far less likely to have built up two years of continuous service in the same job, so are much more likely to miss out on key protections. That means nearly three in four young employees (72%) don’t qualify for vital employment rights, compared to around one in four (27%) of working people aged 25 and over. 

Zero-hours contracts 

Young people are also much more likely to be on zero-hours contracts – which means they are ‘workers’ (without employee status) who miss out on essential rights – like the right to request flexible working or the right to return to the same job after maternity, adoption, paternity or shared parental leave. 

Zero-hours contracts are characterised by low pay and variable hours. As a result, many zero-hours contract workers also miss out on key social security rights such as full maternity pay and paternity pay.  One in seven (13%) 16 to 24-year-olds in employment are employed on a zero-hours contract – meaning they are around 5.5 times more likely to be on these contracts than workers aged 25 and over (2.4%).  

Women are hit harder – one in six (16%) young women in the jobs market are employed on a zero-hours contract.  And young Black, minority and ethnic workers (BME) are 12 times more likely to be on a zero-hours contract than white workers aged 35 to 49 (15.9% compared to 1.4%). 

The report highlights that just under half a million young workers (474,000) are employed on a zero-hours contract.  This means that despite only being around one in nine (11%) of the total workforce, 16 to 24-year-olds make up two in five (40%) of the 1.18 million workers employed on zero-hours contracts. 


Workers aged 16 to 24 also face a higher unemployment rate than older workers. This is because people aged 16-24 are twice as likely to have been unemployed for six months to a year (22%) compared to those over 25 (11%). Overall, the unemployment rate for under 25s (12.3%) is nearly three times as high as that for all workers (4.2%). One in eight young people (12.3%) are without a job despite actively seeking work and being available to start work. 

Low pay 

And young workers are also paid less. Median hourly pay for 16 to 17-year-olds is £8 per hour and £10.90 for 18 to 21-year-olds, compared to £15.83 for all employees. This is partly because the National Living Wage (currently £10.42 per hour) does not kick in until an employee is 23. The government has accepted the Low Pay Commission’s recommendations to increase the National Living Wage to £11.44 from April 2024, expand it to 21 and 22-year-olds, lift the rate to £8.60 for 18 to 20-year-olds, and to £6.40 for 16 to 17-year-olds and apprentices. 

These changes follow pressure from unions and low-pay campaigners. The TUC says that this is a positive step – but that the top rate must be made available to all working people, regardless of age. Even with these current announcements a 20-year-old doing the same minimum wage job as a 23-year-old will still be earning £2.93 per hour (28%) less. 

Labour’s New Deal for Working People  

Labour has pledged to deliver new rights for working people in an employment bill in its first 100 days. The TUC says that Labour’s New Deal would be “life changing” for young people. It would: 

  • Ban zero-hours contracts to help end the scourge of insecure work. 
  • Give all workers day one rights on the job. Labour will scrap qualifying time for basic rights, such as unfair dismissal, sick pay, and parental leave for all workers. 
  • Remove the discriminatory age bands from the minimum wage to ensure every adult worker benefits from fair pay. 
  • Ensure all workers get reasonable notice of any change in shifts or working time, with compensation that is proportionate to the notice given for any shifts cancelled or curtailed. 
  • Strengthen flexible working rights by introducing a day one right to work flexibly. Strengthen collective bargaining by introducing fair pay agreements to boost pay and conditions – starting in social care.  
  • Beef up enforcement by making sure the labour market enforcement bodies have the powers they need to undertake targeted and proactive enforcement work. 
  • Introduce disability and ethnicity pay gap reporting. 
  • Ban unpaid internships.  

Paul Nowak, TUC general secretary, said:  

“Every worker should be protected from being sacked for no reason – but three in four young workers can be fired at will by bad bosses. Just imagine working hard in a job for nearly two years – only to be let go with no recourse. Too many young workers are trapped in insecure work, on lower pay and without the workplace rights most of us take for granted.  That’s not right.” 

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