Thousands of Scots face unfair working practices which leave them in desperate and miserable situations, according to new evidence from Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS).
Last year the Scottish CAB service saw 46,540 instances of unfair treatment at work - an increase of 5.5% on the previous year. Already this year the figures look set to be even higher.*
Examples include unfair dismissal, non-payment of wages, cancellation of holidays, bullying, racism and denial of sick pay. Many workers have told us they would like to take their case to tribunals but can’t afford to do so.
Today (Thursday) CAS are publishing a new report, ‘Fair Enough?’ which sets out these problems in detail and suggests solutions to make Scotland’s workplaces fairer. It is being sent to Ministers, MPs and MSPs.
Publishing the report, CAS spokesman Rob Gowans says:
“In Scotland we like to see ourselves as a generally fair, socially just country. Sadly, the evidence seen by CAB advisers every day tells a different story. We know that many Scots who are unemployed face severe hardship. But many who do have jobs are living on low incomes and also facing extremely unfair conditions at work.
“The evidence we present today is a snapshot of the kind of employment cases we see. Of course it’s important to say that most employers are fair and treat their staff well. But sadly it’s clear that there are many rogue employers in Scotland, and also that the system is in many ways stacked against workers who want to challenge unfairness at work.
“Some of the unfair employment practices we see put workers in difficult, complex and miserable situations. In exposing these today we want to raise awareness of these problems, but also to argue the case for change. All of the problems we identify in this report can be fixed, and we suggest ways of doing that.
“Because Scotland’s workers deserve better. And it is also in the interests of government and society as a whole that fair employment is promoted. Workers in low quality, stressful jobs have poorer general health, and poor daily quality of life than other groups – even those who are unemployed. It is also important to ensure that unscrupulous employers who wilfully undermine their employees’ basic rights do not gain an unfair advantage over fair employers.”
The sort of cases outlined in the report include:
- People being dismissed in unfair circumstances, including for being off sick, attempting to take holiday, or informed of their dismissal by text message.
- Employees who were not paid at all by their employers, in one case for six months’ full-time work.
- Employers who failed to pay their employees’ income tax and national insurance leaving them to pick up the bill; and instances of clients paid considerably below the National Minimum Wage.
- People who were unfairly denied sick pay when seriously ill
- Employers refusing to allow employees to take paid holiday
- Women who were dismissed when they became pregnant
- Instances of racist and sexist bullying at work
- Migrant workers who were exploited and made to work excessive hours
- People who could not afford the fees to pursue an Employment Tribunal claim
- Cases where a client won their case at an Employment Tribunal, and were awarded several thousand pounds, but their ex-employers managed to avoid paying them any of the money they were due
- Many of the examples of poorest practice relate to people on zero hours contracts
Notes to editors - click to expand/collapse
The following case studies are all taken from the ‘Fair Enough?’ report.
Not paid, exploited
A West of Scotland CAB reports of a client who believed she was employed by someone as a groom, which included accommodation and livery. The client was told she would be paid for the work and it was arranged for the employer to be reimbursed through a ‘DWP job incentive scheme’. However, this did not happen as the employer had no employer’s liability insurance. The client advises she was given no wages at all for the six months she has worked there. The client has calculated that she is due abut £6,000. She feels she was further exploited during this period of employment as she was sometimes locked in the stables and was made to work seven days a week for long periods of time.
Sacked for being pregnant
A West of Scotland CAB reports of a client who is employed at a beauty salon. As soon as the client found out she was pregnant she told her employer. The employer reacted by saying that this was ‘not good’ and was ‘a kick in the face’. Subsequently, the employer told her that she was dismissed. They offered her the alternative of becoming self-employed and renting the room she used in the salon, but the client did not want to do this and would have rather stayed on as an employee.
A West of Scotland CAB reports of a client who has worked at a garage for three years. She is the only female that works there, and is currently off sick with work-related stress due to the bullying she faces at work. The client is being bullied, harassed and humiliated at work by the mechanic and apprentices who constantly make comment on her weight and clothes and generally put her down. She has complained on numerous occasions to her employer, but nothing has changed. Her employer has told her that if it can’t be sorted out between them then one of them will have to go and he needs a trained mechanic more than her. It also emerged that her employer paid half her wages in cash, and did not pay her income tax or National Insurance, which has affected her entitlement to Statutory Sick Pay.
Migrant worker exploited
An East of Scotland CAB reports of a Spanish client aged over 25. The client works in a hotel for six hours per day, six days per week. He earns £115.38 per week [an equivalent of £3.20 per hour]. In addition to his regular hours, the client is expected to be constantly ‘on call’ and is not allowed to leave the hotel in case he is needed for some task, including on his day off. The client has a room in the hotel, but needed to spend his savings cleaning the room and making it habitable, as well as being required to buy smart clothes for work, which he has never worn.
Racist bullying/not paid properly
An East of Scotland CAB reports of a Polish client who was employed as a driver. After suffering continued racial abuse - both to his face and reportedly behind his back (he has witnesses) - he was offered two weeks' notice, but resigned immediately after the owner reacted in an abusive manner. Since the client left, the owner has continued to send abusive texts. The client has received no holiday pay, and had been employed for over 12 months with no written contract. In addition, although the client received payslips weekly, they only showed 20 hours' work (client worked on average 45 hours per week), and client was paid £8 per hour cash in hand. The client felt that his employer's behaviour to him had forced him to resign and wanted further advice. In addition, this racially abusive behaviour was not limited to the client, so he hoped that any action he took may force the employer to treat his remaining staff better.
Unfairly dismissed by phone
Citizens Advice Direct reports of a client whose daughter had been working for the past four months on a zero hours contract. Usually she gets contacted by SMS texts or phonecalls to let her know when her shifts are. This morning she got a phone call that her daughter had not turned up at work and would be sacked. However, her daughter did not know that she was supposed to be at work, as no one had contacted her.
Employment Tribunal award not paid
A North of Scotland CAB reports of a client who did not receive wages or holiday pay from his former employer. The client was successful in his Employment Tribunal claim and received an award of £3,283.34. The client waited 42 days but received no payment from his former employer. He then had to write to the Tribunal for 'an extract of the judgement' which caused further delay. In the interim his ex-employer attempted to get the company 'struck off' meaning the client had to write then to Companies House to object. The objection was successful but this only delays the process for two months. The client now has his extract of award and it is uncertain what enforcement action he will be able to achieve in the time scale, given that the ex-employer reports that the company has no money. The client is in a catch 22 situation with a 'hollow victory' award - in that he is owed money but the respondent will not pay. The company will be struck off in two months’ time meaning the client will have an award but no legal entity to pursue payment from thereafter. In order to see if Sheriff Officers can enforce payment, the client will need to pay further sums of around £100 but this may not be successful if his ex-employer has no money. The company is not formally insolvent and so the client is unable to get payment from the National Insurance Fund. The client could trigger the insolvency of the Respondent but the cost for this is over £1,500 (non-refundable) and there would still be no guarantee of getting any money thereafter as the Redundancy Payments Service will only pay holiday pay due if it is within 12 months. The time taken to get to Employment Tribunal, then get the award and then to trigger an insolvency makes this impossible.
Dangerous working conditions
An East of Scotland CAB reports of a client who works for a bookmakers and has had many problems as her conditions have changed in the last few years. She is now obliged to work alone and is stressed as there are situations where customers are abusive, and another employee of the same company was murdered in a similar situation elsewhere. She now has to come out from behind the counter and counsel customers using gaming machines on problem gambling as well as her other duties. The client is not sleeping. She was wondering whether there was anything that can be done as it is difficult to work in these conditions.
Not allowed to take holiday, and effectively sacked
A West of Scotland CAB reports of a client who works in a local pub on a zero hours contract, being given shifts as and when required, often at very short notice. He took a week’s holiday against his employer’s wishes a month ago and has not been given any shifts since that time.