Rebuild unions or return to Poldark working conditions, warns South West TUC

Britain risks slipping back to 19th century working conditions, the South West TUC warns.

In total, there are approximately 354,000 people in insecure work across the South West, with an estimated 53,000 in Dorset. These figures include self-employed people earning less than the minimum wage, agency workers and zero hours contract workers.

Workers are still facing the longest pay squeeze for 200 years, with wages still not recovered since the financial crash.

Ahead of its Congress this weekend in Brighton, the TUC says that unless the balance of power is reset in the workplace, economic inequality and insecure work will continue to get worse.

It highlights that between 1945-75 the share of economic output going to wages was 57%; this has now dropped to just 49% in 2018.

In this time, anti-trade union laws and industrial change have caused union membership and collective bargaining coverage fall – from 54% and over 70% in 1979 to just 23% and 26% respectively in 2018.

The call comes as new analysis further reveals that unsecured debt has risen to record levels, with 1 in 5 families now stuck in problem debt.

The TUC says that increasing the number of workers covered by collective bargaining agreements is the best way to raise wages and improve conditions.

It has published new proposals to increase trade union coverage. These include:

  • unions having access to all workplaces to tell workers about the benefits of trade union membership, following the model in New Zealand
  • new rights to make it easier for working people to negotiate collectively with their employers, on issues that go beyond pay including workload, stress and family-friendly rights
  • sectoral collective bargaining – the establishment of new mandatory joint bodies for unions and employers to negotiate pay, conditions and training for all employees working in a specific sector, starting with the hospitality and social care sectors where low pay is endemic.

The TUC is also calling for:

  • a £10 National Minimum Wage to be introduced as quickly as possible
  • a ban on zero hours contracts, and a crackdown on insecure work

South West TUC Regional Secretary Nigel Costley said:

“We’re at risk of going back to the days of Poldark – when workers were at the beck and call of bosses, not knowing when or how much they’d be paid, and very few rights and protections.”

“Too many workers have no control and no voice at work, with increasing numbers stuck on low pay, zero-hours contracts, or in sham self-employment.”

“We urgently need to reset the balance of power in our economy and give people more of a say about what happens to them at work.”

“Collective bargaining is the best way to raise wages and improve working conditions – so let’s expand it across the whole workforce.”

More Info:

– The full report A stronger voice for workers: how collective bargaining can deliver a better deal at work here: https://www.tuc.org.uk/research-analysis/reports/stronger-voice-workers

– The TUC’s latest debt research can be found here: https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/broken-economy-driving-record-levels-household-debt-warns-tuc

– The TUC’s latest report into the problem of insecure work can be found here: https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/workers-need-stronger-rights-now-not-no-deal-brexit-tuc-tells-new-pm with regional breakdown here: https://www.tuc.org.uk/south-west/news/one-eight-south-west-workers-insecure-employment-says-tuc-south-west

– Further information on the wage squeeze can be found here: https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/britain%E2%80%99s-17-year-real-wage-squeeze-will-be-worst-modern-history-warns-tuc

– For further information on real terms pay cuts since 2010: https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/real-pay-cut-millions-lower-and-middle-paid-workers-tuc-analysis-reveals

– Congress 2019 will be held in the Brighton Centre from Sunday 8 September to Wednesday 11 September. Free media passes can be obtained by visiting www.tuc.org.uk/applying-media-or-external-visitor-credentials and completing an online form.  Applications must be in by noon on Tuesday 27 August. Any received later than that will be processed in Brighton and will cost £75 +VAT.

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