Kosovo youth and trade unions

Kosovo youth and trade unions

There seem to be many assumptions on today’s youngsters’ perception of trade unions. Most people would believe that young people dislike or are uninterested in unions. But this is a simplistic view at best. The attitude of young adults towards unions is complex and is affected by a number of varying factors.

Although there is no official data on trade union membership, unofficial records report that there are roughly 60,000 unionists in Kosovo, with the majority of them being over 35 years of age. Thus, it is unclear how many unionists belong to the 18-25 age category, but it is evident that union density among young workers is considerably lower than that of adult workers. What is clear is that unions are failing to attract new, young members.

Here we would like to explore some of the causes for this lack of attractiveness, which is very peculiar given that in times of economic crises, unions should be seen as a shelter for young, unprotected workers. Particularly in a country like Kosovo, where workers’ exploitation is a common phenomenon, unions could do a lot to secure decent working conditions.

So, why don’t young people in Kosovo want to join trade unions?

  • Lack of information

Youngsters are uninvolved in unions because unions have not found a way to properly communicate with them. Simply put: youngsters are uninformed! Additionally, in most cases, young workers never had any contact with unionists or any form of union activism. Thus, it is not a case of “Pro union” vs. “Against union”. It is mostly a case of “What ‘union’?”

Trade unions themselves are responsible for failing to reach out to students as early as high school, in order to inform them and prepare them for their options in the labour market, before the students chose a future career. 

  • Inappropriate use of communication channels

Due to the older demographics within unions, their organizers tend to use traditional methods of communication, which are unfitting for effectively connecting with younger workers. These current methods do not take into account the affinity that youngsters have with technology. Additionally, the contents usually reflect the tastes and experiences of older members and do not appeal to potential younger members.

  • Failing reputation

Unfortunately, confidence in trade unions has decreased through the years. This can be attributed to their inability to properly present their achievements. In fact, even those youngsters who have heard about unions, probably have a misconstrued understanding of their role, perhaps interpreting it as “disposable” or “irrelevant”.

Additionally, from the perspective of a generation facing terrifying levels of unemployment, it is easy to see trade unions as defending the interests of ‘others’, most recently in the role they have played in defending public sector workers in a time of extreme socio-economic turmoil in Kosovo.

  • Market changes

Structural factors at play also need to be considered. The market has changed: the shift from the manufacturing economy to the service-based economy has created a different dynamic of employment and labour. Atypical, flexible forms of employment (think of freelancers or the modern consultants) are increasingly more popular and simultaneously more difficult to unionize.