Friday 12 March 2021

Security at Work For All

Insecure employment is one of the biggest issues facing ordinary people in Wales. Living on a zero-hour contract feels like living under a cloud. You can’t be certain, from one week to the next, that you’ll have enough hours to ensure that your wage packet can cover your rent or mortgage, your bills and your food costs. A sudden drop in hours leaves workers having to make the decision to buy food for the week and risk rent arrears or falling behind on mortgage payments or keep on top of their housing costs.  It can leave workers at risk of eviction or homelessness. 

This means that the bosses have a weapon to wield in any kind of dispute. Workers who are known to be outspoken about their conditions or pay can have their hours reduced. This makes attempts to organise workers into trade unions more difficult. Workers who experience bullying or harassment will avoid speaking out or raising grievances because they know that this carries the risk of being labelled a troublemaker and having hours taken off them. One worker reports incidence of racially aggravated bullying and sexual harassment going unreported and then festering and escalating into increasingly unacceptable behaviour. 

Precarious employment doesn’t just mean the week-to-week stress of a zero-hour contract, it can also mean the long-term insecurity of a temporary short-term contract. You could be employed on a temporary contract of a year or two years and that means you are always aware that the employer could decide not to renew your contract at the end of t he period. Again, this makes workers wary of getting involved with trade unions, joining other workers in demanding improvements to their pay or conditions, or making complaints about unfair treatment. 

The Wales TUC reported a 35% increase in the numbers of employees on zero-hours contracts between 2018 and 2019. In the UK as a whole, 3.6 million people were in insecure employment before the pandemic hit, and that the prevalence of insecure work is particularly bad in Wales and affects black and ethnic minority workers to a greater extent. This perhaps goes some way towards explaining why poorer part of Wales, and BAME workers saw higher instances of Covid-19 as they felt increasing pressure to return to unsafe working conditions in order not to be penalised when contract renewal time roles around. 

Part of the precarious work culture is down to organisations and institutions, including the Welsh government itself, who like to cut their payroll costs by outsourcing aspects of the supply chain to private contractor companies. Instead of employing their own security guards or cleaners and having to cover their holiday, sick pay and pension costs, it’s cheaper to pay a contractor like G4S or Mitie. This leave the workers vulnerable and disposable. If a client to the contractor takes a dislike to you or your face doesn’t fit, they can ask for you to be replaced and because the contractors must keep shareholders happy and profits rolling in. They will bend over backwards to keep the client happy whilst hanging their workers out to dry. 

This is why we need all public sector jobs to be brought back in house and an end to penny pinching contracting. This would mean that workers at all levels within the organisation would have their conditions and pay protected and they would have access to a HR department in order to raise grievances and stamp out bullying and harassment. We must also demand an end to zero-hours contracts, with the work being organised fairly amongst workers to end the absurd situation where some workers are overworked and some workers do not have enough hours to make ends meet. 

TUSC calls on the Welsh government to:-

•  Bring security and all other outsourced services back in house.

• Ban exploitative zero hour contracts in all public services. Workers who require flexibility should be given it on their terms - through enhanced rights to access unpaid leave or similar.

• Exclude companies who use zero hours from winning contracts with public bodies.

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