Craig Dawson, 27, is the Chair of the TUC’s Young Workers Forum and has a seat representing young workers at the GMB. We asked him what issues he’s campaigning on, and where he thinks the union movement is heading.
Hi Craig, how do you spend your time?
I work part time for a PR firm in Newcastle and I’m studying for my master’s in computer sciences. I also sit on the GMB’s national executive as a young members representative, which involves a few days per month attending meetings, speaking at conferences – that sort of thing.
What are you working on at GMB?
I’m developing an ‘e-rep’ app for my dissertation project that helps unionised workers in workplaces without a recognised union. It asks you questions and then provides either an answer or directions to further help. At the GMB, we’ve just changed how we organise the central executive committee. Traditionally, unions don’t have reserved elected youth seats on their executives. This year, at the GMB’s congress, a rule change went through to reserve two gender-balanced seats for young members.
Why do young people need representation?
It’s about having a voice and being taken seriously. People talk about young workers “being the future”. To me, that sounds like, “wait your turn”. Young workers are at the absolute epicentre of many of the big issues facing workers today – zero hours contracts, unfair apprenticeships, student debt, not being able to advance.
What’s next on the list?
Around 15% of apprentices in the UK are paid below the £3.50 hourly minimum wage. That goes up to 43% if you’re a hairdresser, and 25% if you work in construction. Some employers don’t provide advancement opportunities or proper qualifications – they’re just using the scheme as a way to pay workers £3.50 per hour for a year.
We’ve been working hard on our research and position. We’ll be engaging parliamentarians on what they can do, and generating lot of press to raise awareness of the issue.
Is there a better way?
Plenty of employers are working with trade unions to create great apprenticeships; my union is working with the likes of British Gas and BAE Systems. That means they pay roughly in line with GMB policy of £10 an hour, minimum. By the way, that recommendation for a minimum wage is now Labour Party Policy – it came from a conversation the GMB young members network had in the pub!
What drives you?
I grew up in a former pit village called Sacriston in County Durham. Kids round there didn’t always have access to a great education – only 16% of my peers had the opportunity to go to university. My community paid for my education and I have a sense of duty to the people I grew up with because of that – I want to pay that forward.