Living on the edge

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The rise of job insecurity in modern Britain

Ten years ago the TUC established a Commission on Vulnerable Employment (CoVE), to examine the increase in the proportion of workers at risk of poverty and injustice due to an imbalance of power in the employer-worker relationship.

It is now nearly a decade since CoVE reported. In that time we have seen a significant increase in the number of people in work, with 2.6 million more people now in the labour market.  But while this increase in employment is welcome, it has been accompanied by two major changes in the experience of work:

  • Working people have experienced a significant downgrade in their pay.
    • Pay is still around £20 a week below its pre-crisis levels, and not set to return to those levels until 2021.
    • British workers have experienced the longest decline in real wages since 1864, and have seen the largest decline of any developed economy except Greece. 
  • A growing number of people face insecurity at work.

This report focuses on the second of these two trends, mapping the insecure workforce and the issues they face. It is the first of a new series of TUC work focusing on insecure employment.

This is the first in a series of TUC reports looking at the new insecure workforce. This report concentrates on describing the new insecurity; future reports will set out in more detail how these issues should be addressed. However, the TUC believes that there are five areas where government should act to ensure that everyone has decent rights and protection at work:

  • Make sure that everyone can access the same floor of rights at work. The TUC believes that existing rights should be available to all those in work, not only those who qualify for ‘employee’ status. This includes family-friendly rights, protection from unfair dismissal and the right to redundancy pay. As an immediate first step, government should create a legal presumption that everyone qualifies for the full set of employee rights, placing the onus on the employer to prove that this is not the case.
  • Guarantee that self-employment is a choice made by the worker, not the employer. This should include reviewing the tax incentives for employers to offer work on a self-employed or insecure basis.
  • Ensure that everyone is protected when they cannot work. Key protections for when people cannot work, for example, because of sickness or when they retire are out of reach to an increasing number of people due to low earnings. Government should review how these protections can be accessed, starting by ensuring that all workers can access sick pay.
  • Make sure existing rights can be realised. Government should abolish employment tribunal fees of up to £1,200 a case, which are preventing workers from challenging unfairness at work.  
  • Strengthen workers’ ability to organise for better conditions at work. Unions have a key role to play in enabling workers to negotiate better terms and conditions for themselves, as recent successes at Sports Direct and Uber have shown. Expanding union coverage in workplaces characterised by insecure work is a vital route to tackling insecurity. A good start would be to enable unions to access workplaces where they are currently unrepresented in order to organise.
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