SLAVE LABOUR UK – but TUC Congress has no solution

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Picket line at Pizza Express where low pay and management policy is an issue
Picket line at Pizza Express where low pay and management policy is an issue

Two million UK workers are ‘trapped in a continual round of low-paid and insecure work where mistreatment is the norm’ according to the findings of the TUC’s Commission on Vulnerable Employment, published yesterday.

The Commission, set up by the TUC and involving employers and independent experts as well as trade unionists, says government, unions, employers and consumers must now all play a part in ending exploitation at work.

Commissioners say that they were shocked both by the extent of vulnerable work – with cases of workers being paid £1 an hour and working 70 hours a week – and that much of the poor treatment they found was perfectly legal.

Their report says that ‘employment practices attacked as exploitative in the 19th century are still common today’ and that the ‘poor treatment at work that we have found should not be tolerated.’

The report says that 170,000 vulnerable workers in London ‘trapped in a continual round of low-paid and insecure work where mistreatment is the norm’ deserve a new deal.

The report cites the following case: ‘Imran was referred by Jobcentre Plus to an employment agency who found a job for him as a Housekeeper and Porter for a large public service provider.

‘He mostly worked nights from 10.30pm-5am. Imran’s agency did not provide him with a uniform and health and safety equipment, so he ended up paying for them himself.

‘He says that he enjoyed his job, worked hard and was informed by management that he was doing well and had a good chance of being asked to become a permanent employee.

‘But when his agency did not pay him for two weeks and he discovered he had not got premium pay, due for working on public holidays, and he complained, he was sacked.’

London office cleaner Angela was sacked after seven years for taking ‘too much time off sick’, after taking time off work after a miscarriage. Her union helped her get her job back.

She regularly worked from 6am to 1.15pm with a 40 minutes unpaid break, while contracted to work till 12.45pm.

The Commission’s final report finds that 62% of the UK’s two million vulnerable workforce are female, with 1.2 million women workers ‘trapped in a continual round of low-paid and insecure work where mistreatment is the norm’.

Testimonies from vulnerable women workers include that of lone parent Anne, who was forced onto ‘sessional work’ when her hours were changed, and subsequently ‘let go’ by her service provider employer.

Hairdressing Apprentice Sam was only paid £60 a week, which is less than the Learning and Skills Council’s agreed minimum (£80), and much less than most male apprentices receive. This rate worked out around £1.70 an hour.

Originally from Pakistan, Mrs Begum does part time home sewing work. She does 16 hours a week and gets paid £1 per item sewn.

But as she can only do three to four items an hour she gets paid below the minimum wage – and she gets no sick or holiday pay.

The ‘deeply shocked’ TUC has no solution to this super-exploitation except for minor changes in the law.