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Britain risks slipping back to 19th century working conditions, the South West TUC warns.

Some 354,000 people are in insecure work across the South West, which include self-employed people earning less than the minimum wage, agency and zero hours contract workers. 

Workers are still facing the longest pay squeeze for 200 years. 

Ahead of its Congress this weekend in Brighton, the TUC 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 between 1945-75 the share of economic output going to wages was 57%; this has now dropped to just 49% in 2018.

In this time, anti-trade union laws and industrial change have caused 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 further reveals that unsecured debt has risen to record levels, with 1 in 5 families now 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.

We’re at risk of going back to the days of Poldark. Too many workers have no control and no voice at work.

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, stress 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

South West TUC Regional Secretary Nigel Costley said:

“We’re at risk of going back to the days of Poldark – when workers were at the beck and call of bosses, not knowing when or how much they’d be paid, and very few rights and protections.”

“Too many workers have no control and no voice at work, with increasing numbers stuck on low pay, zero-hours contracts, or 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.”

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

Editors note

About the TUC: 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.