Want to really ‘take back control’? Join a trade union

TUC chief says we need unions now more than ever

Image: Jess Hurd

Insecurity at work is becoming the new normal for too many workers. It’s happening across new and old industries, with workers forced onto shady contracts, whether they’re Uber drivers, bar staff or teaching assistants.

We’ve been researching the growth of insecure work, and found it has shot up by 27 per cent over the past five years. That’s 660,000 people more whose working conditions leave them vulnerable – more than three million of us in total.

But at its heart it’s not a new phenomenon. We hear a lot about the gig economy being driven by tech companies like Uber or Deliveroo, but the growth in insecure working is also being driven by established industries.

Restaurant and pub staff make up a fifth of the increase alone – one in four waiters are now on insecure contracts. And it’s moving into public services, with a 42 per cent increase for workers in education and a shocking 133 per cent rise in the number of care home workers affected.

People need jobs they can live on and build a life around. But if you don’t how much work you are going to get from one day to the next, making ends meet is a nightmare.

How is a working parent supposed to plan childcare when they don’t know the hours they’ll be working? And how can it be right that in 2017 workers are at the mercy of bad bosses who can just take away all their hours or throw them off the job with no notice?

Insecure work takes many forms – seasonal, casual, temporary, agency, zero-hours contracts and low-paid self-employment. But what all these types of work have in common is that they leave people in a vulnerable position.

Their wages can fluctuate without warning. They find it hard to get basic work rights respected by their employers, meaning they miss out on key protections like sick pay. And they’re at the mercy of bosses who can withdraw hours at a whim.

The rules that protect workers need to be dragged into the 21st century. The government’s Taylor review is a prime opportunity to sort this, and we’ll be contributing to that.

But we also need to get more people into trade unions. Workers in unionised workplaces are twice as likely to be on secure contract.

And that’s a good note as we kick off the union movement’s heartunions week (8-14 February), celebrating our unions and the work done by union members and activists to make their workplaces better and more secure for everyone.

If you’ve got a job but you don’t have a union, get some mates together and all sign up if you want to see a better deal at work. There’s a lot we don’t like about the way work has changed in recent years, but by working together there’s also a lot we can do about it.

Frances O’ Grady is General Secretary of the TUC

5 Responses to “Want to really ‘take back control’? Join a trade union”

  1. Martyn

    I certainly agree with what you write here, but its important for Unions to recognise that they need to adapt to the new circumstances faced by their members and potential members – this means working in several new ways, so that union membership is easily transferred across companies and industries, that union fees are kept as low as possible in order to make membership affordable to people in precarious employment. More than that, Unions need to start working socially in order to offset the impact made by the Tories anti-union measures and employers attempt to cheesepare workers’ rights. This means suporting/ working with or even starting credit unions, food co-ops, and providing legal and other support for members facing a wide-range of problems, providing an advice and support service that runs in parallel but goes beyond Citizen Advice Bureaus and provides help with basic skills. It also requires more local co-operation between unions and a revival of Trades Councils and the establishment of social/community centres. They also need to focus on the needs of the under 25s, who have a wide range of very specific problems. This is just a start, but steps like these will make unions more effective, increase their relevance and reverse their decline.

  2. Jimmy Glesga

    Union officials in some cases do not consult with their members or visit workplaces where they have recognition. Cuts in public services are taking place quietly in Scotland and the Unions and management’s are doing deals. The staff are just waiting to see if they have a job and who is getting a job! Nepotism is alive and well.

  3. ted francis

    As 30-year member of a trades union (now retired). I cannot but whole-heartedly agree with Martyn particularly where he refers to greater “social involvement”. The general public have little idea of how Unions work, or indeed, why? Thatcher was able to succeed against the Unions partly because the popular press were organised to slant the coverage. Regrettably the state of the Labour Party denies Unions a strong voice in parliament so now is the time to open up and “go social”.

  4. Jimmy Glesga

    ted, I was saying this and some Unions did their best to destroy the Labour Party and have. The greatest social movement destroyed by fanatics.

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