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As a young worker, do you know your rights on the job?

The Faculty of Arts’ Young Workers’ Rights Hub aims to raise awareness and empower
By: Michelle Grady
July 15, 2021
A young mechanic working on a project.

With young workers facing new challenges because of COVID-19, the Faculty of Arts has formed the Young Workers' Rights Hub to make students aware of their rights on the job and analyze existing rights to see if they're sufficient in today's age.

Young workers are among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, external link, with greater job insecurity and job scarcity posing challenges for new graduates and those seeking summer employment. 

The Young Workers’ Rights Hub, an initiative out of the Faculty of Arts, promotes education outreach and research to address these challenges faced by our students and youth more broadly. The Hub promotes young workers’ understanding of their rights on the job, how to exercise and expand them. 

The Hub has been busy in recent months, with a student-led research initiative, and a series of webinars. 

Working collaboratively

The Hub works collaboratively across Ryerson and externally, to engage the broadest student and youth audience. A partnership between the Faculty of Arts and the Lincoln Alexander School of Law has brought 12 undergraduate students together with eight law students, as Hub student peer leaders. They are engaged in a summer research project to establish a Hub charter of young workers’ rights. 

One Arts student on the project is Josel Angelica Gerardo, who graduated from the politics and governance program this spring. “I think the pandemic hit a lot of young workers in a very devastating way,” she says. “From talking with my friends and peers, I realize there’s a lack of knowledge on employment and labour rights. The Hub is very beneficial for students because it provides a place for us to get to know our rights in the workplace and see how we can advocate for ourselves and our co-workers.” 

Alec Verch just completed his first year at the Lincoln Alexander School of Law, where he became the executive vice-president of its labor and employment law society. He sees the Hub as a great opportunity to dive more deeply into employment and labour law, as well as collaborate with his peers. 

A Zoom screenshot of the Young Workers’ Rights Hub team.

Pictured during a Zoom meeting are half of the students involved in Young Workers’ Rights Hub as peer leaders. The student leaders are working on a summer project to develop a Hub charter of rights for young workers in Canada.

The Hub’s findings

The team has already made some interesting discoveries. “We started with trying to identify the problems that exist in five specific areas related to workers’ rights,” says Verch. “We've realized there’s a lot of overlap when it comes to the different vulnerabilities that young workers face, specifically as a result of their age and other intersecting factors. We’ve also found that a significant knowledge gap exists among young workers in terms of understanding their rights in the workplace and also how they can exercise those rights.” 

The students are working to learn more about the challenges young workers typically face in the workplace, and how to tackle them, says Myer Siemiatycki, a professor emeritus in the Faculty of Arts who coordinates the Hub. Issues being explored include employment standards, harassment and discrimination, occupational health and safety, unionization and collective bargaining. “We’ll come up with a synopsis of key issues that need addressing to improve young workers’ experiences on the job.”

 “The Hub recognizes that university students, and youth more broadly, can be vulnerable and face particular challenges in the workplace,” says Siemiatycki. “All universities in this country need to do more to prepare their students and graduates for the realities of the workplace.” 

Since April of this year, the Hub has also hosted seven webinars open to all. Topics included: Finding a Job in COVID Times (partnered with Ryerson’s Career & Co-Op Centre); Working Rights: What Every Young Worker Should Know; Fairness for Gig Workers; and Ending Discrimination & Harassment at Work. All previous Hub webinars are available on its website.

Of particular interest to students could be the webinar, Can Joining a Union Help Young Workers? As Siemiatycki notes, “There are so many programs at Ryerson where, when students graduate and work in their field of study, they are likely to become part of an existing union. Or they may want to consider forming a union. Students typically leave university without much exposure to unions, which have a total of about 5 million members in Canada. So these are major workplace organizations that students and youth should know about.”

Siemiatycki believes the Faculty of Arts Young Workers Rights Hub is a significant youth-focused engagement and empowerment initiative. “It positions the university as a leader in education and research of young workers rights; no other post-secondary institution is doing anything like this.”

For students looking for more information on young workers rights, visit the Young Workers’ Rights Hub. The hub will be hosting events on an ongoing basis, and the recordings from previous webinars are available to watch and share.

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