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Exposed: the dismal state of workers' rights in Scotland

5 Feb 2015

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
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