15 September 2016
Oxfam has called on the government to protect workers’ rights in order to reduce “shocking” inequality in the UK.
The charity released a briefing this week revealing that the richest 1% now own 20 times more than the poorest 20% (nearly 13 million people) and pointing the finger at exploitative employers as a major cause of this astonishing wealth gap.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has found that more than half of the people living in poverty in the UK are from households where at least one person is in work, and Oxfam has warned that if the government does not take action on inequality, almost 400,000 more households could be living in poverty by 2030.
Rachel Orr, Head of Oxfam’s UK Programme, said: “The UK is one of the richest countries in the world, but it’s a nation divided into the ‘haves’ and have-nots’. Whilst executive pay soars, one in five people live below the poverty line and struggle to pay their bills and put food on the table.”
She added: “Addressing the practises of unscrupulous business needs to be a central part of the Government’s plans to even up the economy. That means closing wage gaps, incentivising investment in companies’ staff and making sure they pay their fair share of taxes.”
Employers need to pay a living wage, honour workers rights, and provide secure work rather than “exploitative” zero-hours contracts, Rachel Orr continued. “At the same time the government needs to hold their feet to the fire,” she said.
Among its recommendations to the government, the charity called for greater representation of workers’ voices, incentives for employers to train workers, and the addressing of low pay and curbing of excessive pay.
The Institute of Employment Rights has demonstrated that these aims can be reached through the refocusing of labour law from statutory minimums to collectively agreed pay and terms.
In our Manifesto for Labour Law – 25 policies drafted by 15 of the UK’s leading labour lawyers and academics – we propose that collective bargaining is encouraged at both sectoral and enterprise levels, providing workers with the opportunity to negotiate for training, better job security and higher pay.
We also recommend that the legal term ‘worker’ is redefined to provide better protection to those misclassified as self employed, or working in insecure agency roles or on zero-hours contracts, as part of the growing “gig” economy. As people in these jobs are currently not defined as ‘workers’, they miss out on many basic employment rights – such as paid sick leave – and as the trend for casualised labour grows, an increasing proportion of the population is being locked out of their hard-earned rights at work.
As well as helping to close the wage gap, incentivising employers to up their game on workers’ rights will encourage them to compete by innovating their products and services and thereby improving their productivity. The UK economy is currently facing a crisis in this arena, with productivity now at a record low compared with our major G7 competitors.
The Manifesto for Labour Law has been backed by Jeremy Corbyn’s team and major UK unions including the TUC, UNITE, UNISON, GMB, CWU, UCU, NUT, FBU, NUJ and BFAWU.