Unions report that low paid young workers in our cafes, bars and restaurants are being routinely intimidated and bullied, forced to work ten hour shifts without breaks, sexually harassed and put at risk by lone working at night. The injustice of zero hours contracts is well documented but the rights of young workers in hospitality, the second most common industry sector to refuse to guarantee minimum hours, has not always had the attention it deserves.

The average pay of a hotel worker is just £7 per hour – that's below the minimum wage for anyone over 21 – and £1.45 per hour under the living wage. Union-backed campaign group Better Than Zero is calling for all hospitality employers to give young workers proper wages and a guarantee of minimum hours to end the weekly stress that comes with being unsure if you'll be able to pay the rent and bills.

As it stands their working reality is no fit start to anyone's working life and the message it sends – that exploitation of those less powerful than you is acceptable – is dangerous. More politicians need to get behind Unite's Fair Hospitality Charter - which calls for regular rest breaks, paid transport after midnight and an anti-sexual harassment policy - and back those already working on private members bills that will give these young workers the rights they deserve.

As McDonalds workers go on strike in London and Cambridge tomorrow it's time to get behind the campaign for better working conditions and encourage our young workers to demand their rights. We've been here before. In the 19th century it was thought that unions would never reach the precarious dock or textile workers. They went on to be among the most active and powerful union members of the 20th century movement. So for young people, it's time to unionise, and also it's time for all of us to make sure we have their backs.