06 September 2018
Following the August break, we bring you a summary of all the employment law and trade union rights news you may have missed during our News Brief holiday.
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Figures have shown that ethnic minorities and people with disabilities are getting a poor deal at work, and there is little incentive for employers to do anything about it.
Data published in the British Medical Journal, and authored by Professor John Appleby, chief economist of the Nuffield Trust think tank, revealed that white consultants earn an average of 4.9% more than their black, Asian and minoity ethnic colleagues – a difference of almost £5,000 a year.
Elsewhere, research by the Equality and Human Rights Commission found that only 3% of UK employers measure their ethnicity or disability pay gaps and fewer than half (44%) collect data on these factors.
Migrant workers dominated the news at a time when many are wondering what relationship the UK will have with overseas labour following Brexit.
Home Secretary, Savid Javid, and Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, announced a pilot scheme that will bring 2,500 non-EU migrant workers into the UK to conduct seasonal agricultural work for up to six months. This is despite a report by the University of Oxford’s Migration Observatory, which warned that such employer-sponsored visas risk encouraging worker exploitation, as short-term programmes like these mean that migrants are unable to leave their jobs without also losing their right to remain in the UK.
When it comes to modern slavery, too, the government was under fire. Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott accused Theresa May of making “hollow” promises after the Prime Minister said she would clamp down on modern slavery during a trip to Nigeria. The Labour MP pointed out that swingeing cuts to the Border Force and police have left human trafficking victims more vulnerable.
Indeed, new figures from the Crown Prosecution Service reveal there has been a 35% increase in number of referrals made for potential victims of modern slavery in 2017 compared with 2016, amounting to 5,145 people. It also warned that investigations have lengthened to an average of three years due to the increasing complexity of cases, adding to scepticism over the government’s response to modern slavery following a scathing report from the Public Accounts Committee earlier this year that accused politicians of not knowing enough about the issue to be able to adequately tackle it.
The question of employment status and how it should be defined has been brought to the forefront by the rise of the so-called ‘gig economy’, with most debates centring on workers misclassified as ‘self-employed’ contractors (and therefore losing out on their rights) at companies such as Uber or Deliveroo. But in an article for the Guardian, Professor of Geography at Birbeck, University of London, Rosie Cox put the spotlight on another group of workers that she says are systemically exploited. She describes how au pairs have not been considered “workers” since 2008. Normally young people from another EU country, they are instead viewed as participating in a cultural exchange in which host families provide room and board in exchange for help around the home, thus excluding them from workers’ rights including the minimum wage. However, all too often the reality is one of long, stressful hours of work without adequate protection against exploitation.
The criticisms of the government’s management of the public sector have fallen into two camps – the deterioration of services, and the failure to lead by example as a good employer.
In education, think tank the Education Policy Institute has warned that schools are facing a recruitment crisis, with pupil-to-teacher ratios rising from 15.5 in 2010 to nearly 17 by 2018. The report highlighted that graduates in shortage areas such as maths and physics are able to make a higher average wage in other sectors than education and that half of teachers in these subjects leave within five years.
Further, Save the Children has warned that nursery schools are facing a “chronic” shortage of qualified teachers that now amounts to nearly 11,000 roles.
The government has also been criticised for issuing guidance to teachers that they must not express political views or use school resources for “party political purposes”. Labour condemned the move as an attempt to “silence” educators’ complaints over budget cuts.
In health, NHS Improvement data showed that £480 million a year is wasted hiring temporary staff from private agencies.
Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, is under fire yet again after it was announced the completion of the Crossrail project would be delayed by the best part of a year.
Further, rail fares are forecast to rise by 3.5% next year, after jumping by the same amount at the beginning of 2018, leading to yet more criticism of Grayling’s handling of the railways. Adding insult to injury, the Transport Secretary then asked railway staff – whose wages have risen at half the rate of fares – to accept cuts to their income in order to reduce the price of tickets.
Prisons Minister Rory Stewart has admitted that government cuts to the number of prison officers was a major factor in the deterioration of prisons like the G4S-run HMP Birmingham, which has been urgently taken back under state control after reports of “ever-present” cockroaches, blood and vomit in the corridors.
The Police Federation reported that a record number of police officers are taking second jobs due to poor pay, with some having to rely on food vouchers and welfare schemes.
The government as an employer
Home Office Ministers backed £1 per hour wages for immigrant detainees after overruling their own officials, who advised a higher pay. The government argues that the work is voluntary, but a group of migrants currently bringing a legal challenge against the Home Office described it as “slave labour”, especially considering it would cost the government over seven times more to recruit external staff to do the same jobs.
Elsewhere, mostly migrant Ministry of Justice cleaners went on strike for three days over poor pay and conditions, asking for a wage that covers the cost of living in London, an occupational sick pay scheme, and parity of terms and conditions with directly employed staff. The Ministry of Justice and the local council blamed private contractor Amey for the low wages and conditions.
Civil service unions the FDA, Prospect and PCS are seeking a judicial review after the government failed to consult on pay before placing a new cap on wage rises of 1.5% – lower than the settlement offered to other public sector workers.
Back to the “big society”?
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport looks to be resurrecting the much-mocked Big Society programme launched under David Cameron, with a new strategy to shift the provision of public services towards charities and volunteers.
UK wage growth fell to 2.4% in June from 2.5% the month before, despite rises in employment. Resolution Foundation expert Stephen Clarke warned that “high employment coupled with weak pay growth could be the new normal”. Meanwhile, the High Pay Centre reported that the income of FTSE 100 CEOs increased by 11% this year – six times the rate of the average worker.
Underscoring the severity of this inequality, Child Poverty Action Group has warned that parents on the National Living Wage do not even make enough to live a basic “no frills” lifestyle.
The TUC have accused the government of “turning a blind eye to Britain’s living standards crisis” after think tank the Resolution Foundation revealed that the benefits of high employment have been offset by insecure working conditions and poor pay.
Nearly two-thirds of workers believe their employer is spying on them inside and outside of work, such as by tracking their whereabouts or snooping on their social media feeds, according to research by the TUC.
Health and safety
Unions, solicitors and politicians have warned that victims of injury at work will struggle to claim compensation if the Civil Liabilities Bill is passed, increasing the small claims limit – the threshold for recovering costs for personal injury – from £1,000 to £2,000.