TUC links ‘dismal’ Tory policies to the coronavirus carnage that hit insecure workers

A cleaner in a hotel hallway with his equipment TUC Covid Inquiry
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The Trades Union Congress (TUC) has urged the Covid-19 Inquiry to “examine how ‘unchecked growth’ of insecure work left millions vulnerable to the virus”. It follows new analysis from the trade unions body, which shows that the number of people trapped in insecure work “grew by a fifth in the decade preceding the pandemic”. The TUC said that 500,000 more people were in this kind of employment by the end of the decade. Plus, it claims insecure workers were “twice as likely to die” from coronavirus (Covid-19) during the pandemic.

The TUC is arguing that despite their insecure working conditions, these workers also had to “shoulder” the most risk in terms of contracting coronavirus.

TUC: insecure work has grown

The TUC’s new analysis shows that:

In 2011, the numbers in insecure work were 3.2 million. By the end of the decade, the numbers were 3.7 million.

This growth is disproportionate compared to the growth of the labour market in this period (the proportion of those in insecure work grew from 10.7% to 11.2%).

Insecure work in this analysis refers to agency, casual, and seasonal labour that doesn’t include fixed-term contracts. It also includes self-employed work that brings in less than 66% of median earnings.

Previous TUC analysis – conducted during the pandemic – showed that “those in insecure occupations faced mortality rates which were twice as high as those in more secure jobs”. It also found that, for coronavirus, the:

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male mortality rate in insecure occupations was 51 per 100,000 people aged 20-64, compared to 24 per 100,000 people in less insecure occupations.

At the same time, the:

female mortality rate in insecure occupations was 25 per 100,000 people, compared to 13 per 100,000 in less insecure occupations.

‘Shouldering’ the risk

In a press release, the TUC argued that:

workers in insecure jobs were forced to shoulder more risk of infection during this pandemic, while facing the “triple whammy” of a lack of sick pay, fewer rights and endemic low pay.

TUC polling from 2022 showed that three in four (76%) in insecure jobs get the “miserly” statutory sick pay, or nothing, when off sick.

Insecure workers are markedly less likely to benefit from the full range of employment rights that permanent, more secure workers are entitled to, including vital safeguards such as unfair dismissal and redundancy protections.

Sectors such as care, leisure, and the elementary occupations have high rates of insecure work – compared to managerial, professional and admin sectors which have some of the lowest.

Those in insecure occupations largely continued to work outside the home during the pandemic – and many were key workers.

It claims a government study suggested that care home agency workers “unwittingly” spread coronavirus through care homes. These people were often on zero-hours contracts. Moreover, the TUC says the study also showed that one in nine workers were classed as insecure during the pandemic.

It further noted that women, and Black, Brown, and disabled workers were more likely to be in such work. The TUC also pointed to its own research which showed Black and Brown women are “twice as likely to be on zero-hours contracts as white men”.

It also highlighted Tory failures, saying:

the government’s record on workers’ rights has been dismal.

Instead of “getting a grip of insecure work” as it grew from 2010 onwards, the Conservative government “let it flourish on their watch”.

This was despite government promises to boost employment rights.

The Taylor Review reported on 11 July 2017, promising “good work for all”. However, the following years have seen few of the review’s proposals implemented.

And since the pandemic, ministers have failed to learn lessons – instead repeating the same mistakes.

Ministers ditched the long-promised employment bill – and they are now backsliding on promised protections for workers from sexual harassment, as well as attacking workers’ right to strike.

‘Unchecked growth on insecure work’

TUC general secretary Paul Nowak said:

The Covid public inquiry must look at how the unchecked growth of insecure work left millions vulnerable to the pandemic.

Ministers let insecure work flourish on their watch – instead of clamping down on the worst employment practices.

That failure had devastating – and even fatal – consequences for workers.

Those in insecure work faced markedly higher Covid infections and death rates. And they were hit by a triple whammy of endemic low pay, few workplace rights and low or no sick pay.

Lots of them were the key workers we all applauded – like care workers, delivery drivers and coronavirus testing staff.

For years ministers promised working people improved rights and protections. But they repeatedly failed to deliver.

It’s time for the government to learn the lessons of the pandemic and stamp out the scourge of insecure work for good.

On the topic of the Conservative government refusing to hand over unredacted evidence to the inquiry, Nowak added:

Ministers seem more interested in playing political games than learning lessons from the pandemic.

It’s time they fully cooperated with the inquiry and stopped dragging their feet.

Featured image via Unsplash

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