Women and low-paid are hit hardest

WHENEVER I hear employers’ pleas to cut the so-called red tape burden on businesses I admit to an element of sympathy.

WHENEVER I hear employers’ pleas to cut the so-called red tape burden on businesses I admit to an element of sympathy. However, the overwhelming feeling is one of concern for the wellbeing and welfare of workers.

For many employers, regulation is a bureaucratic exercise in recording and reporting what they would already do. For too many employers, however, it seems that even minimum standards of employment rights and regulations are beyond them. In what appears an increasingly insecure labour market, this is a challenge for growing numbers of vulnerable workers.

A new TUC report shows that hard-pressed employment advisers in the North are struggling to meet the needs of the UK’s most vulnerable workers. Employment advisers receive daily reports of mistreatment of workers in low-paid and female-dominated sectors, such as care, catering and cleaning, but often feel they do not have the resources to challenge this exploitation.

Advisers in law centres and Citizen’s Advice Bureaux say that at least every week 79% receive reports of unfair dismissal, 67% pick up pay problems and 60% handle problems with working time or contractual rights. Not surprisingly, perhaps, these problems are concentrated in low-paid sectors where most jobs are held by women.

Advisers told researchers that workers having problems were most likely to work in private care homes, hotels and restaurants, hairdressing and beauty, wholesale and retail or for cleaning companies.

Though many grievances were experienced by workers on permanent contracts, agency staff were disproportionately likely to suffer. Some 62% of CABx and 81% of law centres saw temporary workers frequently.

The study gives us a picture of vulnerable work through the lens of the two national agencies which provide free advice to those without union representation. It is not a pretty picture.

It shows much more needs to be done to ensure basic employment standards are properly enforced.

The Government is committed to enabling enforcement agencies such as the Health and Safety Executive and the minimum wage enforcement unit of HMRC to work more closely together and co-ordinate their work better. Agencies need the capacity to do proactive work that prevents mistreatment happening.

Extending the Gangmasters Licensing Authority to other low-paid sectors would also make a big impact.

Kevin Rowan is regional secretary of Northern TUC


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