Toggle high contrast
Issue date
  • Union body calls for the balance of power to be reset in the workplace
  • TUC unveils news proposals to give workers more control and voice at work

Britain risks slipping back to 19th century working conditions, the TUC warns in a new report published today (Thursday).

There are 3.7 million people in insecure work, nearly two million (1.85m) self-employed people earning less than the minimum wage and workers still facing the longest pay squeeze for 200 years.

The report says that unless the balance of power is reset in the workplace, economic inequality and insecure work will continue to get worse.

It highlights that from 1945-75 the share of economic output going to wages has dropped from 57% to just 49% in 2018.

In this time, anti-trade union laws and industrial change have seen union membership and collective bargaining coverage fall - from 54% and over 70% in 1979 to just 23% and 26% respectively in 2018. 

The call comes as new analysis reveals that unsecured debt has risen to record levels, with 1 in 5 families stuck in problem debt.

The TUC says that increasing the number of workers covered by collective bargaining agreements is the best way to raise wages and improve conditions. It has published new proposals to increase trade union coverage. These include:

  • unions having access to all workplaces to tell workers about the benefits of trade union membership, following the model in New Zealand
  • new rights to make it easier for working people to negotiate collectively with their employers, on issues that go beyond pay including workload and family friendly rights
  • sectoral collective bargaining – the establishment of new mandatory joint bodies for unions and employers to negotiate pay, conditions and training for all employees working in a specific sector, starting with the hospitality and social care sectors where low pay is endemic

The TUC is also calling for:

  • a £10 National Minimum Wage to be introduced as quickly as possible
  • a ban on zero hours contracts, and a crackdown on insecure work

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

“We’re at risk of going back to 19th century working conditions.

“Millions of workers have no control and no voice at work, with increasing numbers stuck on low pay, zero-hours contracts, and in sham self-employment.

“We urgently need to reset the balance of power in our economy and give people more of a say about what happens to them at work.

“We know that collective bargaining is the best way to raise wages and improve conditions – so let’s expand it across the whole workforce.”

Editors note

- You can read the full report A stronger voice for workers: how collective bargaining can deliver a better deal at work here: https://www.tuc.org.uk/research-analysis/reports/stronger-voice-workers 

- The TUC’s latest debt research can be found here: https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/broken-economy-driving-record-levels-household-debt-warns-tuc  

- The TUC’s latest report into the problem of insecure work can be found here: https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/workers-need-stronger-rights-now-not-no-deal-brexit-tuc-tells-new-pm

- Further information on the wage squeeze can be found here: https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/britain%E2%80%99s-17-year-real-wage-squeeze-will-be-worst-modern-history-warns-tuc

- For further information on real terms pay cuts since 2010: https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/real-pay-cut-millions-lower-and-middle-paid-workers-tuc-analysis-reveals

- Congress 2019 will be held in the Brighton Centre from Sunday 8 September to Wednesday 11 September. Free media passes can be obtained by visiting www.tuc.org.uk/applying-media-or-external-visitor-credentials and completing an online form.  Applications must be in by noon on Tuesday 27 August. Any received later than that will be processed in Brighton and will cost £75 +VAT.

- The Trades Union Congress (TUC) exists to make the working world a better place for everyone. We bring together more than 5.5 million working people who make up our 48 member unions. We support unions to grow and thrive, and we stand up for everyone who works for a living.