Insecure workers died of coronavirus (Covid-19) at twice the rate of people in other jobs. That’s the finding of new research into the pandemic. It’s shone a damning light not only into the government’s response but also the state of employment in the UK more broadly.
The Trades Union Congress (TUC) has researched how the pandemic impacted insecure workers. It says these are people whose:
contract does not guarantee regular hours or income (including zero-hours contracts, agency work and casual work) or… are in low-paid self-employment (earning less than the government’s National Living Wage). In total, this is one in nine in of those in work.
But as the TUC said, insecure work is not just people like app-based taxi drivers. It said that the following percentages of workers were in insecure jobs:
- 15.6% of people in “caring, leisure and other service roles”.
- 18.4% of those in “elementary roles, such as security guards, taxi drivers and shop assistants”.
- 17.2% of “process, plant and machine operatives”.
Working chaos UK
A lot of what the TUC found about the pandemic and insecure work was unsurprising. For example:
- Between those the government ‘excluded‘ and people who didn’t get help for other reasons, some three million people missed out on any kind of coronavirus support.
- In April 2020, two million people were not getting the minimum wage. Of these, 1.3 million were on furlough.
- Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) was not fit for purpose. 1.8 million employees had no entitlement to it. 70% of these were women. A third of people on zero hours contracts could not get SSP versus 6% of all employees.
Care workers hit hard
Care workers were particularly hard-hit. For example, the government put in place the Adult Social Care Infection Control Fund. It was worth over £1.1bn. The fund was for care companies. Part of it was to pay staff who had to stay off work due to coronavirus. But as the TUC wrote:
a UNISON survey of care workers revealed the money did not get through to workers, with more than two fifths (44%) saying their employer is offering just statutory sick pay (SSP) of £95.85. Around one in 12 (8%) workers say they and colleagues were not paid at all if they needed to stay at home.
Overall, the TUC also said marginalised communities bore the brunt of this.
Marginalising the marginalised
It’s research found that the following percentages of people are in insecure work:
- 7.1% of women versus 6% of men.
- 16% of BAME workers versus 10% of white workers.
- 12.1% of BAME women versus 6.4% of white women and 5.5% of white men.
Also, bosses are more likely to employ disabled people on zero hours contracts (3.8%) than non-disabled people (3.1%).
But it’s the death toll of coronavirus on insecure workers which is particularly shocking.
Shocking coronavirus death figures
The TUC found that insecure workers were more likely to have died from coronavirus. It noted that the death rates were:
- 51 per 100,000 for men in insecure work. This is versus 24 in 100,000 in “less insecure” work.
- 25 per 100,000 for women in insecure work. This is versus 13 in 100,000 in “less insecure” work.
In short, the coronavirus death rate for insecure workers was double the national average. The TUC noted that the more insecure the industry, the higher the coronavirus death rate was:
The TUC wouldn’t commit to why the rates were higher in insecure work. But it did note that:
many of these occupations include work outside the home and that many insecure workers lack decent sick pay.
In other words, people in insecure industries had no choice but to go to work in the middle of a global pandemic. Despite the risks, they could not afford to protect themselves and their families fully from coronavirus.
Change is needed
As the TUC summed up:
The pandemic has exposed the lack of dignity that many insecure workers face. Society relies on these workers to carry out vital roles such as caring for sick people and delivering vital food and other services. In return, a significant number of these workers will have no job or income security.
It says that three things need to change:
- “Increasing and enhancing sick pay entitlement”.
- “New rights for workers to benefit from the protection that collective bargaining brings”.
- “A ban on zero-hours contracts”.
After such a devastating time for so many workers, you’d hope the government would listen. Whether it will or not remains to be seen.
Featured image via the TUC
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