A third of UK workers may have no protection against unfair dismissal

Up to one in three UK workers are either on precarious contracts or have not worked for their employers long enough to qualify for the right.

29 Jan 2021| News

As unemployment soars to 5% and job losses continue at an accelerated rate, new figures suggest up to a third of workers have no legal protection if they are dismissed unfairly.

Research published today (29 January 2021) by the TUC showed 7.5 million employees (one in four) had not worked for the same employer long enough to qualify for the right to claim unfair dismissal if their employer sacks them without just cause.

People classified as “employees” have the highest level of access to employment rights among all those in employment in the UK, but even they do not have the right to protection against unfair dismissal until they have been with the same employer for two years.

The TUC has confirmed to the IER that this analysis included only those who would be classified as an “employee”, not as a “worker” (a grouping that includes agency workers, those on zero-hour contracts, and those in the gig economy who have successfully proven they are not self-employed).

“Workers” are barred from unfair dismissal protection entirely – no matter how long they have been in their jobs. There are estimated to be 3.6m people in the UK workforce either classified as “workers” or earning less than the National Minimum Wage through “self-employment”, so the true number of people with no protection against unfair dismissal could be as high as 11 million, or a third of the UK’s 33 million people in employment.

Indeed, the TUC found that the hardest hit industries and demographics were in fact those most associated with precarious work, such as the hospitality and retail sectors (where 45% and 32% of employees have no right to unfair dismissal protection); BAME workers (33%) and younger workers (56% of 20-24 year olds and 40% of 25-29 year olds.).

The TUC called on the government to make protection against unfair dismissal a day one right – a position taken by the IER in our Manifesto for Labour Law project – ban zero-hours contracts, make two-way flexibility a reality with flexible rights for all workers, create high quality green jobs, and establish a national recovery council on which businesses, unions and govermment sit.

The IER goes further by recommending the abolition of the “worker” employment status so that all people in employment – regardless of how they are hired – have access to the full suite of rights, all of which we believe should be available to them from day one on the job.