Scotland’s workforce are caught in a cruel trap of low incomes and poor working conditions, according to new evidence published today (Friday) by Citizens Advice Scotland.
In a report to the Scottish Parliament’s Economy, Energy and Tourism committee, CAS reveals that the numbers of employment cases seen by Scottish CABs has risen by 12% in the last four years, and is now at its highest level ever. The most common cases include low pay, with-held wages, as well as unfair dismissal, bullying, exploitation, racism and discrimination.
While workers rights are being ignored, new fees for Employment Tribunals are causing problems for many people on low incomes who feel unable to challenge unfair treatment.
Delivering the report to the Scottish Parliament, CAS spokesman Rob Gowans says:
“We have been publishing CAB evidence for some time showing that workplace problems are increasing in Scotland. The Scottish Parliament’s Economy committee has set up this inquiry and invited evidence on the issue, so we are pleased to present that today.
“What our report shows is the collected evidence of all the work-related cases that people have brought to the Scottish CAB service over the last few years. While we don’t give away the identities of any of our clients, our evidence shows real-life experience. There is a growing crisis of low pay and poor conditions in Scotland.
“Around half of Scots who are in poverty are actually working. This reflects the fact that the minimum wage is not in fact keeping up with inflation, and many of the benefits that are meant to supplement low wages are being cut. With wages falling in real terms, families are becoming trapped in poverty, less secure terms and working hours, and with basic employment rights becoming harder to enforce.
“The second part of the problem is that too many rogue employers are using this environment to exploit their workers, and deny them basic rights. The growth in Zero Hours contracts has become a huge problem, which leaves thousands of Scots in huge financial uncertainty. And meanwhile it is becoming harder than ever to challenge unfair treatment.
“While we are pleased the committee is focusing on these issues, we want to stress the urgency. People deserve a fair wage and decent working conditions. In our report today we are calling for action by both the UK and Scottish governments to bring that about.”
Notes to editors - click to expand/collapse
The report we are publishing today is our submission to a consultation on ‘Work, Wages and Wellbeing,’ that was initiated by the Scottish Parliament’s committee on Economy, Energy and Tourism. Please note our report is written in the language of that consultation, and addresses the specific questions that the committee requires us to answer. Nevertheless, our aim was to captures the cumulative evidence of the Scottish CAB service on workplace poverty and conditions over the last few years.
The report includes a number of illustrative case studies. These are anonymous (see below), but we do have a small number of case studies who are willing to speak to media (on a first come first served basis!)
For more information or to interviews, please call Tony Hutson on 0131 550 1010 or 07774 751655.
Appendix – CASE STUDIES from Scottish Citizens Advice Bureaux
(These are all listed in the attached report)
A West of Scotland CAB reports of a client who works in a shop for 16 hours a week with occasional overtime. Her income fluctuates, but is always low, and as she is 21 she is too young to claim Working Tax Credit. She is finding paying for essentials a big struggle, and has rent and Council Tax arrears from living in temporary homeless accommodation until recently.
An East of Scotland CAB reports of a client who is in full time employment but is finding it difficult to cope financially. She is earning £7 per hour and works 35 hours per week, but is finding it difficult to manage to pay rent, Council Tax and other essentials. The client has Council Tax arrears and a debt with a ‘club book’.
A West of Scotland CAB reports of a client who works 10 hours a week at the National Minimum Wage. The client’s weekly costs for travelling to work are 16% of her income. She would be eligible for £13.40 per week Jobseekers Allowance, but would need to spend another £5.40 in return bus fares which would not be much help.
Severe in-work poverty
A South of Scotland CAB reports of a client who is suffering from severe financial hardship. The client works between 22 and 26 hours each week and has asked for extra hours but nothing is available. The client’s monthly rent is 65% of her monthly income and has had to borrow from family to pay her rent in full each month. The client has been going without heating or food and has been showering at family members’ houses. The CAB performed a benefit check to try and maximise the client’s income, but unfortunately there was no entitlement to any other benefits.
Misuse of zero hours contracts
An East of Scotland CAB reports of a client who had started a job on a zero hours contract. She only took the job on the condition that she was given at least 16 hours each week to qualify for tax credits to provide for her and her baby. However, she has only been given a total of three hours’ work in the past two weeks, and her shift today (1.5 hours) has been cancelled. The client now does not have sufficient funds to provide for her child and is having to borrow money from her parents to pay for essentials.
A West of Scotland CAB reports of a client who works as a carer on a zero hours contract. She is due to have a stent fitted as she has blocked arteries, but feels she cannot afford to do this as she has not right to sick pay other than Statutory Sick Pay and would not be able to afford to live on that. The client works between 30 and 70 hours per week, often leaving the house at 6AM and not returning until 10PM due to time spent travelling, but only gets paid for six hours per day of this. The client has developed kidney stones as she is not allowed to use her clients’ toilets, and it is too far to return home to go to the toilet.
Discrimination against pregnant women
An East of Scotland CAB reports of a client who was trying to obtain support for her daughter who works as an apprentice hairdresser. The client’s daughter is expecting a child, but when she told her employer they told her she has to “get rid of it” or she will be sacked.
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.
Not paid by employer
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.
An East of Scotland CAB reports of a client who succeeded in finding a job at a local fast food outlet. At the end of her first week, the client asked for her wages which she calculated to be £55, but was told that she was ‘dismissed’, and that as she was leaving there was no need for the employer to pay her. She has since found that this has been the situation with many of her fellow workers. Her 'employer' did not take any personal details from her - not even her name - before she started work and there is no contract of employment. She is seeking help to be paid the money she is due.
Tribunal award not being able to be enforced
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.