Youth Day 2017: Young Workers Stand up for Their Rights at Work

With youth unemployment rates at record highs and working poverty levels increasing, young workers around the world faced with a lack of decent jobs increasingly are joining with union movements and worker associations to challenge policies that do not promote an economy that works for all. On International Youth Day, the Solidarity Center recognizes those young workers who are standing up for their rights and making their voices heard at work.

Kymbat Sherimbayeva at the hoisery factory where she and co-workers formed a union this year. Photo Credit: Solidarity Center/Lola Abdukadyrova

Young workers like Kymbat Sherimbayeva are standing up for their rights to decent work and collective bargaining. The Kyrgyzstan garment worker recently joined with some 200 co-workers, most of whom are between the ages of 18 and 25, to improve wages and safety conditions. With the help of trainings provided by the Garment Workers’ Union of Kyrgyzstan, with Solidarity Center support, workers at the factory formed a union, recognizing they could negotiate improvements with management much more effectively as a group than as individuals.

Jane Njoki Muthoni, president of ITUC-Africa Young Workers Committee in 2017. Photo Credit: Solidarity Center/Tula Connell

Unions are reaching out to young workers to develop the next generation of leaders. From Kenya, Jane Njoki Muthoni works to enable young women advance to union leadership positions through her roles as president of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC)-Africa Young Workers Committee and youth leader for the Central Organization of Trade Unions (COTU)-Kenya. The Kenya union movement “makes sure that it protects the rights of young women, the rights of young workers in society,” says Njoki.

Youth Representatives of Brazil's CUT at a May Day Rally in 2017. Photo Credit: Maria Robalino.

Young workers are mobilizing in vast numbers to challenge laws and policies that would deny them the ability to attain good wages and stable jobs. For instance in Brazil, young workers were a key force in a  24-hour general strike in May 2017, protesting labor law reforms that penalize mainly unemployed young people and young Afro-Brazilian workers.

 

A meeting between a union organizer and hotel workers in Sri Lanka in 2015. Photo Credit: Solidarity Center/Pushpa Kumara.

Seeking to reach the many young workers in Sri Lanka’s booming tourism industry, unions launched a web-based platform, Wedabima, for workers to share comments, learn about union-related workshops, and access a labor perspective on daily news. The site is part of the Sri Lankan union movement’s innovative strategies to attract young workers into Sri Lanka’s labor movement.

Young Zimbabweans rally against nonpayment of salaries in Bulawayo in 2015. Photo Credit: Abigail Mangunda

Fed up with low pay and a government proposal for at-will employment, Zimbabwean workers spearheaded demonstrations across six cities in 2015, demanding better conditions. The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions points to high unemployment as a leading cause of the country’s “brain drain”—the migration of young, educated workers out of country.

A young garment worker demonstrates against safety violations at a 2015 rally commemorating the deadly Rana Plaza collapse. Photo Credit: Solidarity Center.

In the Bangladesh garment industry, where more than 90 percent of workers are age 29 or younger, young workers are leading the drive to achieve workplace safety, decent wages and fair treatment at the workplace by forming unions.

Young workers participate in a May Day rally in Georgia in 2015. Photo Credit: GTUC

The youth chapter of the Georgian Trade Union Confederation came out in force to share May Day celebrations of their rights as workers.

Young workers in Peru rally against a discriminatory labor law in march 2015. Photo Credit: Luis Mendoza

In Peru, after lawmakers in 2015 rammed through a law that reduced salaries and benefits for workers under age 25, tens of thousands of young workers and their allies organized meetings with workers across industries and marched in a series of massive protests. Their efforts resulted in the law’s nearly immediate repeal.


Narrative by Nathan Benevides