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The millions trapped in insecure work need a new deal from this Prime Minister

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Instead of preparing for a catastrophic no-deal Brexit, Boris Johnson should put tackling the scourge of insecure work at the top of his to-do list.
  • A new report by the TUC has found that at least 3.7 million UK workers – or one in 9 – are trapped in insecure work.
  • Our research shows that insecure work is rife across every region and nation of Great Britain, and that it extends to many traditional jobs as well as those associated with the ‘gig economy’.
  • New Prime Minister Boris Johnson should make tackling insecure work a top priority by banning zero-hours contracts and bogus self-employment and improving the rights of workers in insecure jobs.

The early days of Boris Johnson’s tenure as Prime Minister have been filled with hullaballoo over who got the top jobs in government.

But if he wants to make a difference in office, he should focus instead on another set of jobs – those that are classed as insecure work.

Fresh analysis published by the TUC today shows that at least 3.7 million workers in the UK are in insecure work – or around one in nine of the workforce.

These include agency, casual and seasonal workers, those whose main job is on a zero-hours contract and self-employed workers who are paid less than the National Living Wage.

A national problem

Insecure work is widespread and not restricted to any particular corner of the country.

As the following chart shows, insecure workers make up at least 10 per cent of the workforce in every region of England and in Wales and Scotland:

Proportion in insecure work by region/nation
Proportion in insecure work by region or nation

A blight on lives

Insecure work has a huge impact on those who endure it.

People in insecure work often don’t know what hours they will work (causing chaos with arrangements like childcare) or whether they will be able to pay their next bills.

Many also miss out on rights and protections that many of us take for granted. These include being able to return to the same job after having a baby and the right to sick pay when they cannot work.

This is blighting the lives of millions of workers.

Beyond the gig economy

People often associate insecure work with the growth of the ‘gig economy’ – app-based services like Uber and Deliveroo.

But insecurity is also widespread in jobs that have been around for years.

Our figures show that insecure work extends to:

  • one in five (20 per cent) of those classed as elementary roles which includes kitchen assistants, security guards and farm workers
  • one in six (17 per cent) of those in caring and leisure roles
  • nearly one in five (19 per cent) of those working in skilled trades.
Proportion in insecure work - by occupation
Proportion in insecure work by occupation

This is nothing to do with billionaire tech boffins in Silicon Valley. It is down to the reluctance of ministers to take action to stop workers from being exploited.

Decent work has been the forgotten issue of the past few years with the government’s attention focused elsewhere.

Only half-hearted efforts were made to secure workers’ rights in the Withdrawal Agreement from the European Union.

And disappointingly, the government’s flagship workers’ rights initiative, the Good Work Plan, was inadequate on paper and its implementation has been glacial.

Time for action

The new Prime Minister needs to get a grip of this situation.

We need a new deal for working people so that every worker gets respect, and every job is a good job.

That’s why the TUC is calling for:

  • a ban on zero-hours contracts and bogus self-employment
  • a decent floor of rights for all workers and the return of protection against unfair dismissal to millions of working people
  • ensuring workers enjoy the same basic rights as employees, including redundancy pay and family-friendly rights
  • new rights so that workers can be protected by a union in every workplace, and when we use social media, so that nobody has to face their employer alone
  • new rights for workers to bargain through unions for fair pay and conditions across industries, ending the race to the bottom.
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