Citizens Advice Scotland is calling on the UK Government to fast-track plans for an employment rights watchdog to crackdown on employers who mistreat their workers
The charity made the call in a submission to the Scottish Government consultation ‘Becoming a Fair Work Nation’
Cases of poor treatment at work of course pre-date the Covid-19 crisis and will likely continue after it, but demand for employment advice from the Citizens Advice network grew significantly during the pandemic. Scottish CABs helped people nearly 75,000 times with employment issues during 2020/21, alongside a 40 per cent increase in demand for online advice around employment issues.
Redundancy advice saw a 237 per cent spike during the middle of the pandemic, from 8 per cent of all employment advice in April 2020 to 27 per cent in July 2020. This had stabilised to pre-pandemic levels of 7 per cent of all employment advice in August 2021, although the end of furlough led to an increase to 10 per cent of all employment advice in September 2021. (Full details of these figures are in the submission document).
Publishing the submission today, CAS Social Justice spokesperson David Scott said:
“The vast majority of employers treat their staff fairly, but sadly cases of poor treatment have always been a significant part of the workload of the CAB network.
“During the pandemic, we’ve seen some staggering cases of workers being mistreated, like cases of furlough and statutory sick pay not being used properly and people being denied rights through the use of zero hour contracts.
“People should be treated with dignity and respect at work, have the ability to exercise their rights and be paid what they are owed. With the UK facing a cost of living crisis which is set to get even worse in the spring, the last thing working people need is to be ripped off and treated badly at work.
“The pandemic has created huge challenges for employers across all industries - but there’s no excuse to break the law and not recognise the rights working people have.
“Better promotion and awareness of rights at work would make a difference, as would the UK government bringing forward an employment rights watchdog with real teeth to tackle bad bosses.
“If anyone is struggling with an employment issue then the CAB network is here to help. Our advice is always free, impartial and confidential.”
Cases of bad treatment at work long pre-date the pandemic. A typical example is the case of Tanya Gersiova. Tanya came to Glasgow as a student from Slovakia in 2014. To help pay her way through university she took a job as a waitress in a local restaurant. She writes about her experience:
“The job was a nightmare right from the start. The manager would regularly shout at me, to the point of making me cry on shift, berating me without providing appropriate support - which I clearly needed.
“It was bullying, plain and simple. I would be pulled into the staff room for things like my shirt being an ‘inadequate’ shade of white, or wearing my glasses on my head rather than ‘properly’ on.
For the first few months I wasn’t even paid. They with-held my wages and I had to get crisis loans from the university because of this as I couldn’t pay rent. The stress of it all was huge and really affected my health and also my studies.
“As time went by, my employers would also reduce my hours to a minimum in an effort to try to push me out when it suited them. Then when the company was moving locations, I was told I would be contacted with further details about whether my role would still be needed or not, but they never contacted me again.
“Looking back now, I know I should have left and reported them, but I was only 20, new to Scotland and to university, and honestly, I was too scared to do anything as I needed the money. Their treatment of me had a really big impact on my mental health at the time. I would go home at night, feeling miserable and powerless, thinking, ‘will I be able to get through this week?’
“Now of course I understand better and I know that as a worker you do have rights and that help is available from the Citizens Advice network and others. I want to see better protections for all the workers out there who are being bullied and mis-treated like I was.”
Tanya is now 27 years old and works for Citizens Advice Scotland as a project co-ordinator.
Notes to editors:
The CAS submission to the consultation is published today for the first time. It includes anonymised details of a number of case studies seen by Scottish CABs during the pandemic, including:
- An East of Scotland CAB reports of a client whose employer will not allow her to take her legal right to paid time off after testing positive for COVID. The client’s employer told her that she is not entitled to sick pay for the first three days as the matter comes within company sick policy. The CAB advised the client that this was incorrect and the client has a right to Statutory Sick Pay for 11 days, starting from the day they tested positive. The client’s employer is a private company contracted to a public sector body.
- A South of Scotland CAB reports of a client whose son was employed on a false apprenticeship. The client’s son was dismissed after taking absence due to COVID and subsequently discovered that there was no paperwork in place for their apprenticeship. This means the employer was able to pay the client’s son a lower wage without securing the employment qualification.
- A West of Scotland CAB reports of a client whose employer (a large bank) refused to pay them during a period of long-term illness. The client had been off sick at the start of 2021. Later in the year he was again unable to work, this time due to stress, and was signed off work by his GP for six to eight weeks. During this second period of illness his employer changed his working hours to zero and he received no pay. The client had no income while off ill and was eventually forced to resign to seek other work.
- An East of Scotland CAB reports of a client who was only paid furlough pay, despite working full-time. The client’s wage slip also showed incorrect hours. When the client challenged his employer on this, the employer offered to make up the difference in cash.