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#DecentJobsWeek: Too poor to be off sick
Until recently all of us assumed that when we are off sick we would still be paid, whether through a sick pay scheme negotiated by a trade union, through a company sick pay policy or, in the absence of these, through statutory sick pay (SSP).
This seems perfectly reasonable in 21st century Britain. No one can do their job well when they are sick. Taking time off work also avoids the risk of spreading infection. This is especially important in workplaces where people are handling food, providing health-care and where individuals are in regular contact with vulnerable groups.
However, in recent years, individuals have been losing out on more generous sick pay schemes, with growing numbers no longer employed in workplaces covered by collective agreements. This is particularly true for the growing army of zero-hours contracts workers employed in shops, hotels, bars and even in outsourced public services across the UK.
To make matters worse, new figures released today reveal that many in the most precarious jobs in the UK also lose out on SSP simply because they do not earn enough each week.
According to a new TUC report, workers on zero-hours contracts are five times less likely to qualify for SSP than permanent employees, with nearly two in five zero–hours workers earning less than £111 a week – the threshold for SSP. As a result those in insecure jobs will be forced to turn up for week even if they are unwell – putting their clients’ or fellow workers’ health at risk.
The lack of sick pay is a result of employer’s drive towards more casual patterns of work and efforts to drive down wages to the detriment of workers. New TUC research shows that many in casual, insecure jobs earn far less each week than those in more permanent, secure contracts. A third of all workers on zero hours contracts work 15 hours or fewer each week, whilst one in three report they have no regular amount of income.
Such practices are one of the main reasons why the UK has a serious problem with low pay, with 5 million working people living below the bread line and two-fifths of working age adults in work being in poverty.
The government claims that the economy is recovering because more people are in work. However, today’s report shows that the growth in casual and insecure jobs – in particular zero hours contracts and agency working – means that work is no longer a guaranteed route out of poverty.
For as long as the government fails to regulate to stop employers from exploiting working people this injustice will continue. This is why the TUC is campaigning across England and Wales for decent jobs, offering decent hours and decent pay and decent rights at work for all. We calling for the end of the exploitation of workers through the use of zero-hours contracts, agency workers and false self-employment.