Monday February 17, 2020
For the road ahead

Britain at risk of slipping back to 19th century working conditions


Britain risks slipping back to 19th century working conditions, warns in a new report published today.

There are 3.7 million people in insecure work, nearly two million (1.85m) self-employed people earning less than the minimum wage and workers still facing the longest pay squeeze for 200 years.

The report 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 from 1945-75 the share of economic output going to wages has dropped from 57% to just 49% in 2018.

In this time, anti-trade union laws and industrial change have seen 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 reveals that unsecured debt has risen to record levels, with 1 in 5 families 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 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

URTU 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

TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady said:

"We're at risk of going back to 19th century working conditions.

"Millions of workers have no control and no voice at work, with increasing numbers stuck on low pay, zero-hours contracts, and 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.

"We know that collective bargaining is the best way to raise wages and improve conditions - so let's expand it across the whole workforce."

Report: A Stronger Voice for Workers



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