24 June 2008
At the TUC young members’ conference which took place in Manchester in March 2008, delegates debated a wide range of issues from global unionism, housing and organising to apprentices & the national minimum wage.
I found the debates on apprentices and the minimum wage the most interesting. Under government legislation apprentices are exempt from the minimum wage - in some cases they are paid as little as £40 per week. The conference noted that this is unacceptable in a statement to the TUC general council.
Along with delegations from the GMB, BECTU, RMT and the NUJ, our delegation submitted amendments demanding that the government enforce apprenticeship wages and that the minimum wage youth rate should be abolished.
Disappointingly, UNITE and UNISON delegates felt that it was reasonable for the government to enforce apprenticeship wages at a minimum of £110 a week (in most cases that works out at £2.97 per hour).
A consensus couldn’t be reached - both PCS and GMB delegates didn’t consider £110 per week to be a fair living wage. Conference voted on the PCS and GMB amendments, but unfortunately they weren’t passed.
The housing debate also created controversy. UNISON submitted an amendment to the conference statement congratulating the government on their housing policies.
This created a rift between unions that affiliate to New Labour and non-affiliates. However UNISON backed down and a watered down version of their amendment was passed which welcomed the positive rhetoric from the government over social housing but acknowledged that they had not gone far enough in protecting council housing and creating more affordable social rented housing.
PCS submitted an amendment calling for the TUC to campaign for key worker status to be extended throughout the public sector. This means that key workers would get priority when applying for social housing. Currently it’s limited to a few sections of the public sector. This amendment was opposed by UNITE, NASUWT and the NUT and was not passed.
The debates on global unionism and organising were less passionate. The conference agreed two statements to the general council calling on solidarity for workers abroad and better organisation and support for young trade unionists.
Unlike last year, when PCS won the defending public services debate, the 2008 conference, we felt, was not as successful for us.
However the TUC remains committed to listening to the voices of young workers and provides a valuable link between the machinery of the TUC and young workers on the shop floor.