From education to employment

Union to launch national crusade

Up to 5.3 million workers in Britain suffer from poor working conditions and are susceptible to exploitation, sparking a fresh campaign from the Trades Union Congress.

According to research by the Independent Policy Studies Institute, one in five workers in the UK earn less than one third of the median hourly wage, detailed in a report written for the TUC entitled “The Hidden One-in-Five ““ Winning a Fair Deal for Britains Vulnerable Workers”.

The research indicates that the most susceptible groups include homeworkers and those working in temporary, migrant, and informal sectors who do not have trade union representation to negotiate on their behalf.

Within these groups, the results show that agency workers are specifically at risk in the temporary sector, of which there are roughly 226,000 employed in the UK, in addition to half a million migrant workers drawing largely from the new EU member states.

Informal workers and homeworkers do not show up in official statistics but the Small Business Council estimates that the so-called “grey economy” is worth £75 billion a year. According to the report, last year the government recovered more than £3 million from criminal employers not paying the minimum wage.

TUC General Secretary, Brendan Barber, announced the start of a “national crusade” against exploitation.

Recommendations to tackle the issue include introducing licenses for all employment agencies, granting employee status to casual workers, improving enforcement of the minimum wage, and extending union recognition to small employers.

Mr Barber said: “We estimate that at least 150,000 people – and possibly a lot more – are not getting the minimum wage. Even more are not getting their proper paid holiday rights, including bank holidays. We want to see government get tough with criminal employers”.

Identifying “some gaping loopholes in our employment law”, he also reinforced the role that unions to play, charging responsible employers to look more closely at their operations.

Focusing specifically on migrant workers, he also made clear the TUC’s opposition to restricting Bulgarian and Romanian workers when their countries join the EU, emphasising the need to “not put up the shutters”.

Leona Baldwin.

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