Why trade unions need to do more to attract younger members

Trade unions need to do more to attract younger members and those from ethnic minority backgrounds, according to the founder of an independent union in Yorkshire.

Mizan Muqit is the general secretary of co-founder of the Equality for Workers Union based in Leeds.

Mizan Muqit is the co-founder and general secretary Leeds-based Equality for Workers Union (EFWU).

Mr Muqit believes that a lot of younger people don’t know what unions are and how they can benefit them on an individual basis.

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He told The Yorkshire Post: “In this country there’s only 8 per cent of 18-25 year-olds that are in a union. That particular age group is what we sort of focus on.

“A lot of people’s parents were probably in unions but nowadays people don’t even know what a union is.”

Mr Muqit and co-founder Imran Rehman set up the EFWU in 2015 and today the union has around 3,500 members. There are now six people working at EFWU.

Prior to establishing the EFWU, Mr Muqit was involved with a much larger mainstream union, having worked at the call centre of telecommunications giant O2.

“The biggest thing is that in my old union I was the only black, Asian ethnic minority (BAME) person,” he said. “Ethnic minorities relate to someone from a similar background.”

Mr Muqit, who is originally from Scotland, spotted that a lot of large pockets of Asians were not being represented by unions.

The EFWU is now enjoying a domino effect, he says, as more and more people from BAME backgrounds join.

One of the ways that the organisation has been able to attract younger people is through its online savvy approach.

It uses social media platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat to communicate with members. Mr Muqit also says that membership costs are kept low.

While in the past unions looked to provide collective strength, the general secretary of the EFWU believes that “nowadays it’s about what the union can do for them on a personal level”. The union helps employees navigate sickness management meetings, discrimination, disciplinaries and any other employment related issues.

Mr Muqit added: “ I have a lot of young people as well on my team. Young people can relate to the youth. They don’t listen to older people. They like to see people of a similar age.”

Racial discrimination in the workplace is still an issue, says Mr Muqit.

“It can be unconscious racism for example promotion in the workplace and development,” he added.

There has been a high birth rate in the BAME community and companies need this manpower for the future, Mr Muqit said.

He added: “I always tell my members, they are not doing you a favour. They need you. They need the manpower.

“Another big thing that I’ve managed to do is educate these employers over the years. At O2 I got a prayer room put in because back then there wasn’t a prayer room. I educated them about Eid and Ramadan.”

The biggest challenge in setting up the EFWU was that it took two years.

Mr Muqit said: “You have a lot of intensive interviews by Government officials to get the application approved. There’s also the start-up cost as well to create the union. I underwent two or three interviews with officials and rigorous background checks.”

The general secretary of EFWU now hopes to expand the union beyond just Yorkshire as he is already getting calls for help from other parts of the country.

“It’s about growing the union to maybe one day being national,” Mr Muqit said.

Proving the doubters wrong

Mizan Muqit doesn’t know why there aren’t many general secretaries of unions from an ethnic minority background.

When he set out to establish the EFWU, Mr Muqit says he was told that he was going to fail by figures at established unions. This only made him more determined.

Mr Muqit said: “I worked for free for 18 months to build this union. Everyone said I was going to fail. I said no I’m not.”

He added that to establish the union “was my dream” and proving the naysayers wrong was one of his “biggest determinations”.

Mr Muqit moved to Leeds to do a postgrad in 1995 and has been in Yorkshire ever since.