13 September 2016
By Carolyn Jones, Director, Institute of Employment Rights
BRITAIN’S 31 million workers are among the most insecure, stressed and unhappiest in Europe.
No wonder! According to the latest report by the Institute of Employment Rights (IER), the evidence is damning.
On average, British workers work more hours per week, more days per year, more years before retirement — after which they receive lower levels of pension — than most of their European counterparts.
In comparison to other European workers they generally receive less education and training, and (because of lack of employer investment) their productivity is lower.
They get fewer paid holidays than almost all European comparators and their pay is so low that a great proportion of them are in poverty, with the state subsidising employers’ low wages.
And it doesn’t end there. Britain has a high proportion of its workforce in so-called “self-employment,” agency work, temporary work, and/or on zero-hours contracts.
It has more part-time workers who want full-time jobs than other European countries.
British workers have less entitlement to redundancy pay, sick pay, and maternity pay than most European workers.
Workers’ rights to remedies for unfair dismissal and discrimination are set low and have been made practically unenforceable by the imposition of high access fees.
In Britain, unlike most European countries, there is no ministry of labour, no labour inspectorate and a negligible complement of health and safety inspectors.
All this in the fifth richest nation in the world. It is obscene. So what’s to be done?
An excellent starting point is the establishment of Jeremy Corbyn’s Workplace 2020 initiative. Launched in May 2016, the aim of the project is to start a national conversation on what work should be like in 2020.
Under the chairmanship of Ian Lavery, shadow trade union minister, the Labour Party wants to hear the good, the bad and the ugly stories about working life in Britain.
On a recently launched website people can submit their comments, complaints and suggestions on a range of workplace issues.
So whether it’s job security, pay and pensions, training and apprenticeships, diversity and equality, trade unions or health and safety that raises your passion, there’s scope to feed into the policy agenda.
Once again the Labour leadership team is turning out to the country for ideas rather than assuming it knows best in the corridors of power.
Labour is already committed to raising the minimum wage, banning zero-hours contracts, ensuring workers are given access to justice and giving temporary workers the same rights as permanent staff. But it recognises that more needs to be done — not just to secure fairness at work but to rebuild Britain’s economy and industry.
So, at the request of Jeremy Corbyn and Ian Lavery, the IER drafted a contribution to the review, using 15 of its academic and legal experts. At the heart of our proposals is the need to ensure the voice of Britain’s 31 million workers is heard and respected — in government (via a ministry of labour), in the economy (via a national economic forum) and in industry (via sectoral employment commissions).
The manifesto offers 25 major policy recommendations for consideration.
It proposes changing the way in which working conditions are regulated. It moves responsibility for workplace regulation from legislation to collective bargaining.
It calls for the repeal of the Trade Union Act 2016, the removal of tribunal fees and the introduction of fundamental and enforceable rights for workers, enforceable in a labour court with the assistance of labour inspectors.
The Thatcher concept of individual rights for individual workers has to go. It does little for workers, it’s costly to enforce and it fails to deliver fairness at work.
IER’s manifesto offers a system based on the collective voice of workers, negotiating collectively agreed standards and delivering collectively enforced fairness at work.
A new framework of labour law should be built on the following 10 points:
- A ministry of labour
- A national economic forum
- Sectoral employment commissions
- Sectoral collective agreements and wages councils’ orders
- Workplace bargaining
- A strengthened framework of statutory employment rights
- Labour courts and labour inspectors
- Employment tribunals
- Stronger support for freedom of association and collective rights
- The right to strike
Originally published in the Morning Star