#DecentJobsWeek: Unions are scoring successes against casualisation
The fall in the numbers of workers covered by agreements negotiated by trade unions is the key reason for the rise in low-paid and casual jobs in the UK. In 2013, 29 per cent of working people in the UK had their terms and conditions set through a collective agreement, a massive fall from the 82 per cent covered in 1979. The decline in collective bargaining coverage is largely the result of anti-union legislation and the break-up of sectoral-level negotiating machinery during the 1980s and 1990s.
Zero-hours contracts have long been found in non-unionised sectors, including hospitality and the tourist industries. Since the recession and as a result of the government’s austerity measures, we have witnessed an explosion in casual forms of work particularly in outsourced public services, such as social care, where more than 300,000 domiciliary care workers are now employed on zero-hours contracts.
In those workplaces where there is still effective union organisation and collective bargaining, unions have been fighting back against growing casualisation. Recently a number of unions have run campaigns against employers’ increased use of zero-hours contracts and agency workers, whilst others have negotiated agreements securing more permanent jobs.
The Bakers’ Union (BFAWU) secured an end to the use of zero hours contracts and pay parity for agency workers, following a dispute at the Hovis factory in Wigan. Throughout its campaign, the union engaged with the local community, as well as supporting its members.
In BT, the CWU has developed a long-term negotiating strategy aimed at securing equal treatment and access to permanent jobs for agency workers employed in call centres across the country. The union has also negotiated recognition agreements with Manpower Plc – the main agency provider to BT. Following negotiations on the implementation of the Agency Workers Regulations, many CWU members received significant pay rises. A female agency worker who had worked at BT for 14 years handling calls during unsociable hours, was on low pay, at times just the national minimum wage. But since 2011 she has received equal pay with that of her BT colleagues, and now earns more that £19,000 a year. This has had a huge impact on her financial security and her ability to provide for her family. More recently the union has secured the conversion of more than 300 agency jobs in BT into permanent contracts.
Through its ‘Stamp our Casual Contracts’ campaign, the UCU has been pressing for a reduction in the use of zero-hours contracts in universities and further education colleges, with some success. For example, in Manchester and Edinburgh universities the union has secured agreements ending the use of zero-hours contracts.
Last Christmas, following negotiations at BMW, Unite secured permanent employment for nearly 1,000 agency workers. The deal meant that the workers could join the company’s car scheme, get paid holidays, sick pay and will be eligible to join the company pension scheme.
Unison is campaigning for an end to low pay and poor working conditions for home care workers in local authorities. A number of authorities, including Camden, Islington, Southwark, Reading, Wirral, Lancashire and Renfrewshire, have already signed up to Unison’s Ethical Care Charter, which commits councils to commission companies who guarantee not to use zero-hours contracts in place of permanent contracts and to provide care workers with regular training and occupational sick pay.
These examples demonstrate that where workers are organised, unions are able play a central role in tackling casualisation and in securing better pay and access to permanent jobs. This is why it is vital that those in precarious jobs join trade unions as a means to secure a better future.