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The future starts today

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22 February, 2023The first IndustriALL meeting of young white-collar workers was held online, over two half-days, in December 2022. Around 35 participants came from all around the globe and exchanged their different realities, needs and expectations in the world of work and in their unions.

According to ILO Expert Kee Beom Kim’s presentation, young people are more vulnerable to economic fluctuations and have been disproportionately impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. Covid-19 led to a fall in global youth employment by -7.3 per cent in 2020. 23.3% of the global youth is neither in employment, education or training. However, there are opportunities for youth employment growth in digital, green, care economies.

Industry 4.0 as well as climate change have a massive impact on jobs and the volume of employment.  

“The share of highly skilled jobs has increased 25% over the last two decades. There is a booming employment in renewable but who will be our negotiation partner? We need to organize these new sectors to develop industrial relations with these new employers and protect workers.” 

Says Kan Matzuzaki, IndustriALL assistant general secretary.

Corinne Schewin, sector co-chair, said 

“there was very often a generation gap between young white-collar workers with the previous generation of workers. Young workers’ situation is sometimes closer to their grand-parents generation than to their own parents’ ones. Jobs are less stable, more precarious. However, we need to learn to work together, youth and adults, bridging the gap of misunderstanding and building together the company of tomorrow.”

In this context, young white-collar workers are surrounded with several challenges and opportunities that are specific to their sectors of activity, and countries. During the first day, the discussion focused on working conditions.

Flexible working environment, and overtime were seen as an opportunity as well as a threat. 

For some, since Covid-19 made teleworking almost the new normal it feels that workers are connected all the time. They shared how difficult it was to turn off their computer and how workers doing overtime puts pressure on those who do not want to work overtime. Employers should value the quality of the work rather than the time-spent working. This would avoid the stigmatization of workers who are not overworking. Participants also stressed the risk for mental health when working too long hours and in a non-regulated work environment.

For others overtime represents an opportunity to make more money. Participants from countries of the global south said that young workers are keen to do overtime because the salary does not enable workers to make ends meet. 

Existing different working contexts and conditions around the globe lead to the fact that young white-collar workers are not equal. 

The participants called for decent wages and asked that overtime not be compulsory but rather negotiated and agreed with the employer beforehand.

For young workers from North America or Europe, changing employers regularly is seen as something normal for certain participants. Others coming from countries, where the economic situation is less favourable and the supply of qualified jobs is scarcer, stressed the difficulty to get one job for young qualified white-collar workers. Young workers who are not well connected, or whose family is not well-connected end up in under qualified and boring jobs.

For some young participants, joining a trade union was an obvious choice as they have grown up in families of trade unionists. For others, it was important to get involved to make their voices and those of the workers heard, and to better understand and influence the functioning of their companies.

Young white-collar workers face numerous obstacles to join a union: lack of time; difficulty to identify with organizations that they perceive as obsolete, lack of interest in trade unions that are not interested in dealing with young workers priorities; pressure from management not to join a union; legal prohibition for young professional and managerial workers to get unionized.

Strategies that will help trade unions recruit younger white-collar workers include: reaching out to young workers in their spaces is key, launching social media campaigns to reach them, educating them on trade unions, workers’ rights and benefits, and addressing their needs and issues.

Sarah Li from Unionen presented how the union in Sweden sent trained and specialized organizing teams to universities to recruit students. They will get in touch with these members once their studies are over, to offer them support and advice for the start of their career. 

These are among the issues that young white-collar workers would like IndustriALL and its affiliate to focus on:  

  • Continuous training and the acquisition of new technical skills
  • The need to promote a better work-life balance 
  • The impact of the climate on work and professional life
  • Mental health and ergonomics
  • Gender equality and diversity in the world of work and trade unions

The fight against unemployment and creation of new job opportunities.