5 Ways Public Sector Workers are Being Exploited

10 April 2013 The Coalition's ideologically-driven ambition to shrink the state is leading to increased outsourcing in the public sector, which - alongside new government policy - is dismantling the employment rights of workers across the UK.

Commentary icon10 Apr 2013|Comment

Sarah Glenister

National Development Officer, Institute of Employment Rights

10 April 2013

The Coalition’s ideologically-driven ambition to shrink the state is leading to increased outsourcing in the public sector, which – alongside new government policy – is dismantling the employment rights of workers across the UK.

1) Widespread redundancies

More than 380,000 council jobs have been slashed by the Coalition so far, according to recent GMB figures. To make it cheaper for the government to dismiss so many workers, it has instituted new laws. The 2010 Superannuation Act reduced redundancy benefits (such as compensation) for civil servants; while new collective redundancy consultation laws mean employers need only engage with trade unions and workers for 45 days rather than 90, increasing the likelihood of further jobs lost and more people becoming unemployed.

What’s more, the privatisation of parts of the public sector has led profit to be prioritised over service. For this reason, many public sector workers face redundancy when their departments are sold-off to private interests.

2) Pay cuts

After a lengthy pay freeze, public sector workers are now being ‘treated’ to a 1% pay rise until at least 2016 – so far below inflation it is effectively a pay cut. A recent job advert showed that a barista at the House of Commons earns more (£20,173) than the paltry wage of a junior soldier (£17,500) or a police officer (£19,000).

When services are outsourced, public sector workers often find their pay being cut even further, as fair wages are seen by many private sector companies as a threat to their profit margins.

3) Zero-hour contracts

Employers hiring staff on zero-hour contracts have no obligation to provide work. In return, employees have no obligation to agree to work when they are called in, but the reality of most workers’ situations means they are forced by financial restraints and fears over their job security to go to work when called – often on short notice.

Many employees on such contracts simply wait by the phone – unpaid – until they are receive such a call. Because work is so unpredictable, they find it difficult to take on other employment opportunities to provide some stability. They also miss out on training and do not have the regular practice in their jobs that most workers have, which can make for a less skilled workforce.

Zero-hour contracts are rising exponentially in the public sector. Outsourced services often hire workers on this basis because they may not need to be in operation at all times. Security professionals working in tandem with the police force, and healthcare workers including in cardiac, psychiatric and physiotherapy services are being recruited under these terms.

4) Sham employee-ownership

So-called ‘mutualisation’ of the public sector, which is being promoted as a way to provide public services, throws frontline services to the wolves of the competitive private sector.

  • Community-based mutuals will be forced to reduce staff pay, sick leave and other entitlements to compete against the bids of private sector companies who keep their staff on poverty pay.
  • Public sector workers moved to mutuals will be pulled out of public sector pension schemes.
  • With minimal shareholding arrangements for workers – to make the organisation technically a mutual holding – does not mean employees have much of a say in how the workplace is run. Mutuals such as Circle Healthcare are largely owned by investment banks.

The government’s new shares-for-rights scheme will also come in with the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill allowing employers to provide work only on the agreement of their staff that they will give up their right to redundancy pay, to claim unfair dismissal, and to request the right to training and flexible working. In return, workers will receive shares in the company, which are often of negligible value.

5) Trade union exclusion

Some of the private outsourcing services public sector workers are being moved to do not recognise trade unions, reducing the ability of these more-vulnerable-than-ever-before employees of being able to organise to stand up for their rights.

Come together to share views and learn more about halting this ideological campaign

17th April, NUT Hamilton House, Mabledon Place, London, WC1H 9BD

Key Speakers include: Dave Prentis, General Secretary of Unison, Karen Jennings, Assistant General Secretary of Unison, Rachel Maskell, Head of Health at Unite, and officials from GMB, TUC and PCS.

Sarah Glenister

Sarah Glenister Sarah Glenister Sarah Glenister is the Institute of Employment Rights' IT Development and Communications Assistant.