The TUC has today (Thursday) released new analysis ahead of indoor hospitality reopening, which shows just 1 in 171 workplaces have had a safety or workers’ rights inspection during the pandemic (between March 2020 and April 2021).
For safety inspections alone, the figure is even more stark, with just 1 in 218 workplaces inspected in the same period.
The TUC warns of a “crisis of enforcement” which is risking workers’ safety and allowing bad bosses to get away with flagrant labour rights abuses – adding that the pandemic has highlighted the UK enforcement system’s long-standing deficiencies.
Pandemic health and safety
The TUC says the lack of safety inspections during the pandemic is dangerous and points out that not a single employer has been prosecuted and fined for putting workers or the public at risk of contracting Covid-19
The union body is calling for the government to reverse cuts of the past decade, which it says left us “under-prepared and vulnerable” to the pandemic. The last ten years has seen real term cuts of 50 per cent to the HSE budget, on top of local authority budgets being slashed.
There has also been a dramatic decline in inspections. There were 27 per cent fewer HSE inspections carried out in the UK in 2019 than 2011, amounting to a fall of over 5,700 a year.
As indoor hospitality reopens next week, the TUC is using this analysis to highlight its message that worker safety must come first and says good ventilation is key, telling workers, employers and customers to open a window wherever possible.
Rights abuses at work
The new analysis also reveals that:
The TUC says that for too many workers, basic workplace rights like the national minimum wage, holiday pay and contracted working hours are illusory because there is no effective enforcement. The latest pre-pandemic data shows that nearly half a million workers are paid less than the national minimum wage, and nearly two million employees miss out on holiday pay.
Agency workers, who are often on zero-hours contracts, are particularly vulnerable to their rights being abused. Many have been working in key frontline jobs through the coronavirus crisis, such as in care homes or at testing centres. The union body says that the government should have prioritised maintaining inspections in a safe manner given the way the pandemic has brutally exposed the terrible working conditions, insecurity and low pay many key workers face.
Many furloughed workers have been on less than minimum wage and many have not received this year’s increases in the minimum wage rates. The union body warns there needs to be a step-up in enforcement as coronavirus support is withdrawn to ensure these workers get their full pay when they return to the workplace.
The TUC adds that the government has rowed back on its workers’ rights and enforcement promises. The union body points to “a litany of failures” including the failure to appoint a new Director of Labour Market Enforcement, take any action on its planned single enforcement agency, and to bring forward an employment bill in the Queen’s Speech to boost labour rights.
UK-EU deal breach
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) benchmark for inspectors, which it recommends all countries meet, is for countries to guarantee one inspector per 10,000 workers. From the latest publicly available data, the UK would need an additional 1,797 labour market inspectors to meet this benchmark.
The TUC says that there are simply not enough inspectors to do the work required. For example, there are roughly 40,000 employment agencies operating in the UK, but just 19 EAS inspectors.
The TUC has warned that as a result of this lack of inspectors, the UK is potentially breaching the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement. The agreement stipulates an effective system of domestic enforcement and labour inspections in accordance with its international commitments.
The union body says the government must provide enforcement bodies with “long-term, sustained funding” so they can recruit and train proper workplace inspectors, inspect more workplaces, and prosecute bad bosses who don’t keep their workers safe.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:
“Everyone deserves dignity and safety at work. But too many are working in dangerous workplaces, at risk of Covid-19, or being illegally paid less than the minimum wage.
“Bad bosses need to know that they can't get away it. But the UK faces a crisis of enforcement.
“Years of cuts to the HSE and huge under-resourcing of other enforcement bodies has left us vulnerable and ill-prepared for the pandemic.
“It’s staggering that not a single employer has been prosecuted and fined for putting workers at risk of contracting Covid-19.
“The government must fund enforcement bodies properly so they can recruit and train qualified workplace inspectors, inspect more workplaces, and prosecute bad bosses who don’t keep their workers safe.”
On safe reopening on 17 May:
“As indoor hospitality reopens next week, workers’ safety must come first.
“Good ventilation is critical. All tasks that can be completed outside should be. And every workplace should have their doors and windows wide open.
“If workplaces aren’t Covid-secure, coronavirus cases could rebound again. High vaccination rates are no excuse for employers to slack on safety at work.
“And the government should make sure everyone can afford to self-isolate if they need to. That means making sure everyone can get statutory sick pay, and raising it to the level of the real Living Wage.”
- The TUC Action Plan to reform the labour market enforcement system is available here
-Number of inspections per workplaces methodology: number of workplaces divided by number of inspections
-1 in 171 workplaces were found to have had either a workplace rights or safety inspection between March 2020 and April 2021. The TUC looked at inspections by the key enforcement bodies: the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Employment Agency Standards (EAS), HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA).
-These enforcement bodies have distinct roles. HSE inspections check whether workplaces are safe for workers, HMRC inspections investigate if employers are paying at least the national minimum wage and GLAA investigations look at all aspects of labour exploitation. The EAS is responsible for regulating the agency sector and making sure agency workers get their basic rights.
-The number of workplaces (3,212,780) was sourced from the latest available data: Office National Statistics: UK business; activity, size and location: 2020 (September 2020)
-The number of inspections between March 2020 to April 2021 is based on data retrieved from the following parliamentary questions
-The number of inspections between March 2019 and April 2021 is based on data retrieved from the following parliamentary question
-The number of EAS inspectors is based on data retrieved from the following parliamentary question
-By HSE inspections, we mean health and safety inspections conducted by a qualified inspector.
- The Trades Union Congress (TUC) exists to make the working world a better place for everyone. We bring together the 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.
TUC press office
020 7467 1248
Want to hear about our latest news and blogs?
Sign up now to get it straight to your inbox
To access the admin area, you will need to setup two-factor authentication (TFA).