Fair pay starts at home: report reveals widespread low pay in Leicester garment industry
It’s Fairpay Fortnight at the TUC. One of the sectors we know workers particularly face low pay is the garment industry. Usually it is the very low rates of pay workers are given in countries like Cambodia and Bangladesh that we hear about. A new report produced for the Ethical Trading Initiative, however, shows that low pay is also widespread in the garment industry on our doorstep in Leicester.
The reports uncovers that on average workers earn just £3 an hour. This is under half the National Minimum Wage. It reports that workers are often paid cash in hand for less hours than they have worked and report not receiving holiday or sick pay. They frequently have informal contracts, if they have contracts at all.
The report demonstrates that the ‘Fast Fashion’ model is one which fuels exploitation wherever there is a lack of regulation and trade union coverage whether in East Asia or the East Midlands.
This model is based on companies making relatively small but numerous orders with fast turnaround times. The report shows that inadequate enforcement of the National Minimum Wage and employment regulation in the UK has meant that suppliers in the garment sector offer cheaper prices, often based on how much they can get away with underpaying their workforce.
The majority of the workers in the garment industry in Leicester are migrants. As the TUC has stated, bad employers take on migrants as they know they are easier to exploit. They are socially marginalised – particularly now with the barrage of ‘hostile’ policies introduced by the current government – while the law means migrant workers from outside of the EU without proper documents have no employment rights.
Migrants also face exploitation as they lack of information on their rights at work. The report cites the example of one migrant worker from India who was asked by their employer ‘would you like to earn 3,000 rupees per week?’ The worker agreed as this had been their monthly wage in India, they didn’t realise this was only £31.
Trade unions are key to not only informing workers of their rights but enabling workers to claim their rights through collective bargaining with employers.
The TUC is highlighting the important role of unions to achieve decent pay during Fairpay Fortnight. The TUC has also developed a guide for migrant workers to find out their rights and how to join a union in a number of different languages.
The report makes clear the need to tackle bad employers who are using migrants for cheap labour. It highlights the need for companies at the top of the supply chain to change their practices to address these abuses in the supply chain.
The Ethical Trading Initiative will use this report to develop a programme in Leicester which will bring together NGOs, trade unions and the TUC (which is an Ethical Trading Initiative member) with companies that sell garments to better enforce rights to pay and conditions across the supply chain.
Beverley Bambrough, Education and Equalities Director at the Community trade union, which is part of the programme, said:
‘Community has already begun to work with some of the brands to put in place practical action to improve working practices within UK suppliers. Ongoing trade union involvement in the Ethical Trading Initiative programme and other initiatives will remain important to ensure that there is enforcement and that workers are clear where they can seek independent support.’
To support programmes like this the TUC is calling for stronger National Minimum Wage enforcement as well as more resources and powers to other agencies like the Gangmasters Licensing Authority. Changes to the law are also needed to make companies responsible for conditions across their supply chain rather than their company alone. This is known as ‘joint and several liability’ would also support this process. This has played an important role in preventing employers using migrants to undercut local workers in Norway.
The message from this report is clear – until employment protection is provided for all, this exploitation and low pay will continue in the garment industry, affecting local workers as much as migrants, whether in Dhaka or Leicester.