The need for unions to address the mental health of young workers in the wake of Covid-19, was made clear in a webinar organized by UNI Youth on 29 June.

UNI Equal Opportunities brought together young trade unionists and mental health experts from the World Health Organization and Norway’s Centre of Life Management and Public Health, to discuss the impact of the pandemic on the mental health of young workers, as well as share best practices in supporting the mental wellbeing of workers.

The fear of contracting the coronavirus as well as the new realities of working from home, temporary unemployment, home-schooling of children and lack of contact with other family members, friends and colleagues are all stress factors that are affecting young workers in what some have dubbed as the “fourth wave of the pandemic”.

For young people the most common stressors include anxiety, depression, loneliness, self-criticism, stress and low self-estee. UNI APRO youth president, Bernadette Reyes, from Philippine finance union NUBE, highlighted issues related to young workers, who are being hit by job losses, pay cuts and precarious work.

Taking into consideration that more than 50 per cent of all cases of mental illness appear by the age of 14, young people are particularly vulnerable to mental health issues, which will impact them throughout their lifetime.

“We need to normalize mental health – no one is immune. Everyone, at some point, is likely to suffer from mental health problems,” said Luke Elgar from postal workers’ union, CWU, in the UK. “My union has 700 leads trained in mental health and a dedicated committee for the issue.”

Argentinian union FATSA is also taking measures to support workers: “We’ve used trained psychologists to provide professional mental health advice to our members during the pandemic,” says Alejandro Abraham. “Covid-19 has been recognized in Argentina as an occupational disease which has helped us.”

Prior to the meeting, UNI Youth carried out a Thought Exchange with young workers across the globe. The results showed that 48 per cent of all respondents had increased their levels of anxiety during the pandemic, followed by stress at 41 per cent.

“Without a doubt, mental health is a key element to workplace wellbeing and the safety and health of our workers,” said Marta Ochoa, Director of UNI Youth. “And unions can help. Through strong collective bargaining they can support initiatives around policy creation, communication, training resources and early-prevention treatment that can help reduce the stigma, create positive workplaces and reduce impacts and risks.”