ASLEF at TUC Young Workers Conference 2019

25 March 2019

This weekend ASLEF members attended the TUC Young Workers Conference in London.


The union was represented by delegates Nik Fetherston, District 1; James Sutherland, District 3 and Chair of the Young Members Representative Committee; Samantha Kerr, also from District 3, Hollie Yates, District 5 and Secretary of the Young Members Representative Committee, and Rob Kitley, District 7. Three of our delegates were first-time attendees.


In the TUC Year of the Young Worker, the conference was an opportunity for young members from across the trade union movement to hear from workers from a wide range of industries about the issues facing young people in the workplace.


Conference opened with a minute's silence in sympathy and remembrance of the recent terrorist atrocities committed in Christchurch, New Zealand. We stand in solidarity against extremism.

The first collection of motions at the conference centred around improving parity of pay and conditions for younger workers. Delegates called for efforts to tackle the discrimination inherent in exploitative, ageist pay bands for young workers and those in apprenticeships.


There were also passionate speeches on the topic of mental health provision for young people. Delegates raised the issues of being able to access support in the workplace, and ensuring that mental health first aid resources are available to union reps.


James Sutherland, District 3, spoke in support GMB's motion regarding the importance of personal protective equipment and making work safe for young workers. James told the conference about the positive example set by ASLEF Health and Safety reps working within the railway industry, to show other young workers that the aims of the motion are very reasonable and achievable, and that every worker should be entitled to a safe workplace.

Education was another key topic discussed on Saturday, with proposals to add political and financial education to the school curriculum, along with motions calling for education on trade unions and workers' rights. Young members from teaching unions also shared stories about the extreme pressures and career challenges facing today's teachers.


There was also debate on ways to tackle the issues facing our retail and hospitality sectors.


On Saturday morning TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady spoke about the 'Brexit shambles', the impact of Tory austerity, and the Trade Union Act. She also highlighted the issues of young workers being held back by the current political and economic environment, causing a wealth of wasted talent, and the future challenges of automation and the digital economy which will continue to shape young people's working lives into the future.

Saturday closed with a Q&A panel on the retail sector. Trade unionists from the TGI Friday and McStrike campaigns shared their stories, which highlighted the similarities of the challenges young people face across different sectors, but also reminded ASLEF delegates of the strength we have due to effective union organisation in our workplaces.


On Sunday motions included the challenges faced by Brexit, particularly in the arts industry and the impact on young people forging creative careers. The challenges to graduates entering the workforce, and careers in the public sector were also discussed. Rob Kitley, District 7, also spoke on a motion tabled by the RMT on reducing stress in studying.

Nik Fetherston, District 1, proposed ASLEF's motion on mental health support for young people, which was also supported by delegates from across the union movement. A number of people made heartfelt speeches on this very personal topic.

Hollie Yates, District 5, spoke in support of PCS's motion on period dignity, a topic which was also covered in a composite motion by ASLEF and the CWU at TUC Women's Conference earlier this year.

Hollie was also re-elected to the TUC Young Workers forum.


The full text of ASLEF's motion on mental health is below:


Kids in Crisis

Conference notes that 12% of young people aged between 5 and 19 has a diagnosable mental health condition however just 25% of them have been in contact with a mental health specialist in the last year.

More distressingly in 2015 suicide was the most common cause of death for boys and girls within this age range.

Conference acknowledges many reasons contribute to a young person’s mental health status including difficult childhood experiences, poverty, discrimination, sexuality and gender stereotypes.

Despite increased need there are failings in support, local authorities have scrapped early intervention services, family counselling and school-based programmes. CAMHS turn away nearly a quarter of young people referred and have an average first appointment wait time of 6 months.

Conference welcomes the Autumn budget announcement dedicating an additional £20 billion to mental health support but condemns this will not happen until 2023 and that nothing has been allocated to the overstretched yet underfunded CAMHS teams.   

This crisis must stop, conference calls on the TUC Young Members Committee to:

  • Lobby the government for a substantial increase to CAMHS funding and to take action to plug the black hole in youth and community group provisions.
  • Support and promote the work of Young Minds.


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