The millions trapped in insecure work deserve a new deal

Author
Published date
10 May 2018
1 in 9 British workers are now stuck in precarious employment. Working people urgently need fair pay, decent rights and a voice at work

Today the TUC has published new figures showing that 3.8 million people – 11.9% of the workforce – are now stuck in precarious forms of employment such as zero-hours contracts, low-paid self-employment or agency work.

When the number of people in insecure work first began to mushroom after the 2008 economic crisis, we were told things would improve once unemployment began to fall.

Yet 1 in 9 workers are now in precarious employment today, even though joblessness has been in decline since late 2011.

If the labour market isn’t to blame for the explosion in insecure work, then who is responsible for allowing millions to become stuck in jobs where they’re treated like disposable labour?

The gig’s up
People often associate insecure work with the growth of the ‘gig economy’ – app-based services like Uber and Deliveroo that have expanded rapidly across the UK in recent years.

But the shift in the relationship between workers and employers cannot simply be attributed to new technology alone.

After all, it’s the jobs that have been around for centuries – teaching, caring and providing hospitality – where job insecurity has grown the quickest.

The growth in insecure work in these professions has nothing to do with tech wizards in Silicon Valley and everything to do with the green benches in Westminster.

For many years, the government has failed to crack down on shady business models that exploit workers.

Ministers have turned a blind eye to the half a million who could be in bogus ‘self-employment’, and done nothing to stop bosses using agency workers to undercut permanent staff.

Deeds, not words
When Theresa May launched Matthew Taylor’s review of modern working practices last year, she promised to invest in good work and always be on the side of hard workers and good employers.

Unfortunately, we’ve yet to see those words backed by concrete action.

First of all, the Taylor Review hasn’t been the game changer that we hoped for. We pushed for proposals that would shift the balance of power decisively in favour of working people so that they had a chance of taking on the bad bosses, but the review fell far short of what we wanted.

In any case, the real responsibility to tackle insecure work lies with the government.

That’s why we pressed ministers to implement what good news was in the review (like better pay for agency workers and those who fall sick), and to think carefully before changing employment status or weakening minimum wage protections in the future.

We’re also calling for the government to:

  • Ban zero-hours contracts to ensure workers get guaranteed hours, allowing them to pay bills and plan childcare.
  • Ensure equal pay for agency workers by ending the Swedish Derogation which acts as an Undercutters’ Charter.
  • Crackdown on bogus self-employment and ensure workers enjoy the same basic rights as employees, including redundancy pay and family-friendly rights.
  • Allow trade unions to access workplaces to support workers most in need of representation.
  • Increase resources and powers for enforcement so that dodgy employers have nowhere to hide.

So far these demands have fallen on deaf ears.

The government recently announced plans to consult on some aspects of the review, but we’re clear that much more needs to be done to end exploitative working practices once and for all.

Enough is enough
Workers deserve so much better than what this government is delivering. This Saturday, we’re marching through London to demand a new deal for working people because we’ve had enough of the empty rhetoric from government and employers.

The TUC is determined not to allow insecure work to become a permanent feature of the labour market. While ministers sit on their hands, we’ll keep fighting for fair pay, decent rights and a voice at work for everyone.