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Insecure forms of employment, the EU and the UK

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insecure employment, differences EU and UK, TUC report, Frances O'Grady remarks“If countries like France, the Netherlands and Germany can give their working people more protection, Britain can too.”

A new study published this week by the TUC has revealed that the UK has seen significant growth in insecure forms of employment compared to other EU countries.

And it links this growth to relatively weak legal protections for those in bogus self-employment, agency work and on zero-hour contracts.

The report, International Trends in Insecure Work, was commissioned by the TUC from the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR).

It focussed on:

1) Temporary employment: workers with zero-hour contracts, fixed term contracts, or doing agency work.

2) Marginal part-time employment: part-time jobs that have particularly low hours and high insecurity.

3) Self-employment: workers classified as self-employed contractors, but who have a subordinate relationship with a single employer.

And it found that the UK had the largest increase in the number of self-employed workers for EU countries from 2008 to 2015, and that the UK had the third largest increase in the number of temporary workers for EU countries from 2008 to 2015.

The UK’s high placement for growth in these categories of work cannot be explained simply as a result of strong employment growth overall.

Germany had the fastest overall employment growth of any EU country during the period, but its number (and proportion) of temporary and self-employed workers has fallen.

The report also found that the absence of effective legislation in the UK to regulate insecure work has allowed the growth of atypical employment, like zero-hours contracts.

By contrast, atypical workers elsewhere in the EU tend to have stronger legal protections and greater job security.

For example, in France, workers can only be on a fixed-term contract for 18 months, and Germany has introduced a maximum hiring period of 18 months for temporary agency workers.

Zero-hours contracts do not even exist in many EU countries, and are strongly regulated in others, for example the Netherlands, Italy and Germany, but are only lightly regulated in the UK.

In the Netherlands, employers are required to pay for 3 hours per shift, and to provide regular hours when the worker reaches a certain number of weekly hours over a given period.

To improve protections for insecure workers in the UK, the TUC is calling for the political parties to make manifesto commitments to:

Ban zero-hours contracts: people working regular hours should have a right to a guaranteed-hours contract;

Give people on variable-hours contracts a right to overtime pay for hours outside of their contracts;

Give all workers a right to a written statement of terms, conditions and working hours, from day one;

Ensure everyone at work to get the same rights as an employee, unless the employer can show that they are genuinely self-employed; and

Guarantee agency workers the going rate for the job, on an equal basis with directly-employed workers.

“The EU looks set to give zero-hours contract and gig economy workers new rights. Parents will get a right to paid parental leave. And bad bosses will be stopped from exploiting migrant workers to undercut local workers.

“The big question for the party leaders is whether they will make sure Britain’s workers benefit too.

“The next government must guarantee a level playing field after Brexit. When EU rights improve, UK rights must improve too.

“And it must be written into the Brexit deal. Otherwise hardworking Brits will miss out on new protections that EU workers get,” the TUC’s General Secretary, Frances O’Grady, said recently.

Remarking on the report, O’Grady, said: “We don’t need to accept insecure jobs as a necessary evil to get more people into work.

“In Germany, employment growth has been the strongest in the EU, but at the same time insecure employment has declined.

“It’s time Britain stopped being a soft touch for bad bosses. Otherwise the dodgy practices we’ve seen from employers like Hermes and Sports Direct will spread to more and more working people.

“All the parties must explain in their election manifestos how they will improve the rights of working people.

“There are millions of insecure workers in Britain who need a government that will flex its muscles to fight their corner, and stand up to bosses who treat them badly.

And, she pointed out: “If countries like France, the Netherlands and Germany can give their working people more protection, Britain can too.”

NIESR researcher Nathan Hudson-Sharp said: “While insecure work in other European countries has been characterised by the emergence of regulation and policy, the UK has noticeably lacked much needed new legislation.

“The UK therefore stands out for having very precarious forms work, and for creating arrangements where workers are at particular risk of insecurity.”

To read the full report ‘International Trends in Insecure Work’, click here.

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