From the TUC

Don’t let political pantos take spotlight off low pay and exploitation

23 Dec 2014, by in International

In the last few weeks we all seem to have been given tickets to a kind of extended panto complete with a string of bad jokes and even a donkey.

While the papers are having a field day with this silly season, it shouldn’t distract us from the danger of allowing anti-migrant parties like UKIP and commentators to dominate the debate on migration, particularly those that scapegoat migrants for bad jobs and low wages.

These commentators exploit local workers fears of undercutting, however, it is not migrants that cause this but employers taking on workers on insecure contracts to undermine those on permanent contracts.  This can only be tackled through the enforcement and extension of employment rights and the creation of more decent jobs.

While migrants are disproportionately likely to be employed in precarious forms of employment, the TUC has found that increasingly local workers are being forced into these kind of contracts too.  Last week the TUC published a report which showed that the number of men in precarious employment – including zero hours contracts and agency work – had risen by 61.8% to 1.06 million and women in precarious employment had risen by 35.6% to 1.08 million in 2014.

It also showed those on zero hours contracts also earn up to £300 less a week than permanent employees.

During Decent Jobs Week last week, the TUC called for an extension of employment rights to make sure that all workers, regardless of whether they are on agency, temporary or permanent contracts have the same basic rights at work such as equal pay, redundancy pay and the right to return to work after maternity leave. It is also important that workers are able to join a union so they can speak out about bad treatment.

The TUC is also calling for stronger enforcement of employment rights to tackle illegal undercutting such as paying one group of workers below the minimum wage or forcing them to live in inhuman conditions.

That is why the TUC welcomed Labour’s proposals last week to outlaw exploitation of migrant workers.

We are also calling for the Gangmasters’ Licensing Authority, which regulates employment in the horticulture, agriculture and fisheries sectors, to have its funding and powers increased.  This  recommendation was supported by the government’s own research body, the Migration Advisory Committee’s report earlier this year.

Shamefully, since coming to power, the government has slashed the funding and powers of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority which has meant there were only 3 prosecutions this year – from 19 in 2010.

Finally, tackling voters’ concerns about jobs and wages will also require more quality jobs to be created.  Too many people find that the only job they can find is a low paid, low skilled job.  Yet, the TUC has shown, sustainable economic recovery will only be possible if employers and government invest in skills and work with unions to create more higher skilled, better paid jobs.

Anti-immigrant posturing – in pantomime dress or otherwise – only inflames tensions while providing no solutions to the hardship that low wages and insecure jobs are causing millions this Christmas.