New deal for workers

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We need a new deal for workers

By Paddy Lillis, General Secretary, Usdaw

The new Real Living Wage rate announced this week reflects the struggles that workers on low pay are facing to afford what they and their families need, amidst a cost-of-living crisis, and cuts to household incomes. In-work poverty is increasingly a reality for workers in low-pay sectors such as retail, but as USDAW General Secretary outlines, a new deal for workers, including a rise in the government’s National Minimum Wage, could immediately improve the lives of so many.

The retail sector is in crisis. The most recent figures show that we are experiencing the longest continuous drop in retail sales since records began in 1996. With Christmas trading just around the corner, the Government needs to urgently deliver a retail recovery plan.

This plan must go beyond supporting business and local government and focus on the people who work in shops, warehouse and distribution settings. This will help businesses recruit and retain staff and at the same time ensure staff are appropriately rewarded for the important work they do. If we want retail to prosper, we need to make sure that retail jobs are good jobs.

For too long retail jobs have been overlooked and considered unimportant, despite the fact that retail is the largest private sector employer in the UK. All too often, retail jobs have been characterised as low paid, insecure employment.

In this context, it is unsurprising that many retail workers are struggling to make ends meet. Usdaw has recently surveyed over 2,500 low paid workers on their experiences of low pay and insecure work. The results of this survey show that:

  • 69% have struggled to pay gas and electricity bills in the last year;
  • Over 1 in 3 have missed or been late with rent/mortgage/council tax payments;
  • In the past 12 months, 71% of respondents have had to rely on unsecured borrowing to pay everyday bills, and two-thirds of these are now struggling with the repayments;
  • Three-quarters reported that financial worries are affecting their mental health.

This is not sustainable, especially when so many retail workers have been at the forefront of our response to the Coronavirus pandemic and kept our country going through challenging times. Now, everyone understands the important role retail workers play.

We need the Government to introduce a new deal for workers, to tackle in-work poverty. Usdaw is calling for:

  • An immediate increase in the National Minimum Wage to at least £10 per hour for all workers;
  • A minimum contract of 16 hours per week for everyone who wants it;
  • A right to a ‘normal hours’ contract;
  • A ban on zero-hours contracts;
  • Improved sick pay;
  • Protection at work, through legislation to protect public facing workers which makes it a specific offence to assault them;
  • A proper social security system and a fundamental overhaul of Universal Credit;
  • A voice at work for all employees, through strengthened trade union rights.

It is time for the Government, employers and the public to recognise that retail workers have been undervalued for too long. They deserve a new deal. The provisions that Usdaw are calling for will lead to a substantial improvement in life experience for millions of workers across the economy and will help tackle the growing scandal of in-work poverty that blights our country.

Usdaw logo for GM Poverty ActionMore information about Usdaw.


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