Many Scots are being ‘exploited’ by employers who feel they can treat their employees unfairly because of the recession, according to evidence published today by Citizens Advice Scotland.
The CAS report – Fair employment - details cases of unfair and illegal treatment brought to the Scottish CAB service by aggrieved workers. The issues include low pay, unfair dismissal and changes to terms and conditions.
CAS are today calling for the establishment of a Fair Employment Commission in Scotland, to guard against these abuses and protect workers rights.
Publishing the report today (Monday), CAS Head of Policy Susan McPhee said:
“Scottish CAB advisers help thousands of people every year with problems in the workplace. The victims are often low-paid and low skilled, and many of them are un-aware of their rights, so are therefore vulnerable to unfair treatment by rogue employers.
“As a society we might have hoped that workplace exploitation was a thing of the distant past. Sadly, this report shows that many Scots are still being treated unfairly. Examples include illegal changes to contracts, unfair dismissal, low pay, with-held wages and victimisation of those who have tried to demand their rights.
“Most employers are fair, and there are many good organisations which fight for workers rights. But our evidence today shows that there are still some employers who are using the recession as an excuse to mistreat their employees. They feel they can get away with it because workers are terrified of losing their job.
“We all know that work is scarce and nobody who is in a job wants to lose it. But that doesn’t mean employers should be able to take liberties. Indeed, at times like these we feel its more important than ever that workers are treated fairly, with dignity and respect.”
Over the last two years, Scottish CAB advisers dealt with a total of 107,000 cases of unfair employment issues. That’s nearly 150 per day. However, CAS believe that this is only the tip of the iceberg, as most people affected by these issues are too frightened to report them.
Susan McPhee continues:
“The cases we see are bad enough, but we get a sense from talking to these clients that there are many more people out there who are suffering these problems but are too scared to come forward, because they fear they will lose their job.
“We would urge anyone who feels they have been mistreated at work to get advice from their local CAB. At the very least we can inform them of their rights, and help them decide if they want to pursue the matter. All CAB advice is free, independent and completely confidential.
“And to address the problem longer-term, we call today for a Fair Employment Commission – with powers to identify wrongdoing and to punish employers who flout the law and exploit their staff.
“Bad employers make life miserable for their workers, but they also distort the job market. By unfairly reducing their costs they put good employers at a disadvantage, and create pressure for them to adopt similar unfair and illegal practices. It is sad that such employers still exist in Scotland in 2012. They should be rooted out, and made a thing of the past.”
Notes to editors - click to expand/collapse
Summary of main findings:
Our ‘Fair Employment’ report’s Executive Summary details the following as its key findings:
- Many employers are changing the terms and conditions of their staff contracts rather than making large scale redundancies. However, these cuts in pay and hours can be forced on employees and often have a significant impact on their finances and wellbeing
- Employees report that they are being systematically underpaid, including being paid for fewer hours than they have worked and not being paid for overtime
- Employees that should be protected by TUPE regulations are finding themselves unfairly dismissed by their new employer
- Employees are being laid off for months with little chance of work and no offer of redundancy
- Employers can fail to follow their responsibilities when making staff redundant, including failing to pay due wages, holiday pay or redundancy pay
- Employees report being dismissed from employment after trying to enforce their employment rights
- Workers are often afraid to enforce their employment rights for fear of reprisals from their employer, while Employment Tribunals are an intimidating process for resolving workplace disputes. As a result, many employees feel unable to enforce their rights and poor practices go unresolved
The following are all cases reported to Scottish CAB advisers over the last year or so. They are anonymous, but represent a fair cross-section of the types of problems we see. More examples are recorded in the report.
A West of Scotland CAB reports of a client who has received a letter from her employers stating that her and three other employees’ hours are to be decreased from January. If they do not agree to this, their names will be put in a hat and one will be made redundant.
A West of Scotland CAB reports of a 60 year old client whose company’s new owners have told her that she is too old to learn the new computer programs and doing so could affect her mental health. The client has worked in this role for 20 years. She has been given a month’s notice and has been told she is not entitled to redundancy pay because she is too old.
An East of Scotland client was dismissed after questioning his employer over how the tips at the restaurant were shared. The client’s employment contract stated that he would be paid £4.50 an hour with tips bringing his wage up to £6 an hour. When the client questioned his employer on this, he was dismissed on the spot.
An East of Scotland CAB reports of a client who has been told that there will be a change in his hours and pay. His employer has indicated that if he does not accept the changes he will have to leave. His hours will be reduced from 45 to 30 and pay from £8/hour to £7/hour – a reduction in income of £150 each week.
A West of Scotland CAB reports of a client and her friend who have been made redundant from a jewellers’ shop without notice or redundancy pay. The owner informed the client that she would not need to pay them redundancy but she ‘might consider it’. The client and her friend have worked there for 24 years between them.
A West of Scotland CAB reports of a 23 year old client who experienced financial difficulties after his hours of work were reduced from 30 hours to 12.5 hours per week. The client now has debts of over £5,000 and he is unable to meet his contractual payments and is incurring interest and charges on his overdraft, credit card and loan accounts.
An East of Scotland CAB reports of a client whose terms and conditions of work have changed completely since the client’s employers changed ownership. The client works as a cleaner in a major hotel chain. The client now has a certain amount of time to clean each room and has money deducted from her wage if targets are not met. This means that she is often paid less than the minimum wage.
An East of Scotland CAB reports of a client whose working hours as a legal secretary have been reduced. All the secretaries in the office were asked to attend a meeting and were told collectively their hours would be reduced by one day. For the client, this means moving to a four day week, but for those working part-time the change in hours and pay is significant. Unless they agreed to this reduction, two of the secretaries would be made redundant.
A South of Scotland CAB reports of a client whose employer is refusing to pay her for overtime. The client worked 47 hours of overtime in one month, but was told that she is not entitled to overtime due to the terms of her contract. The client checked her contract which states that she should be paid time and a half for any overtime worked. The client has found that another worker did receive payment for the same amount of overtime.
A West of Scotland CAB reports of a client who was informed by his employers that they would not be paying overtime for two months but that overtime hours would be accrued and paid later. The client and other staff now feel that they are owed over £400 in overtime payments which the employer is refusing to pay.
A North of Scotland CAB reports of a 28 year old client who has been employed by a local construction company for seven years as a labourer before being laid off. The layoff has now lasted for 26 weeks and the client has not received any payment apart from a statutory guarantee payment after 13 weeks. He now claims jobseekers allowance, but due to the reduction in income he has had to move out of rented property to live with his parents. The client has recently discovered that the company has recently hired another individual as a labourer.
A West of Scotland CAB reports of a client who was made redundant after her employer decided that she was now an ‘unnecessary luxury’. The employer gave the client one day’s notice and failed to pay her the four weeks’ wages the client was owed. The client informed the employer that she was entitled to one week’s notice, a week’s holiday pay, and a month’s wages, but the employer said that he could not afford to pay her anything.
An East of Scotland CAB reports of a client whose former employer denies ever employing the client. The client was employed for eight weeks before having her employment terminated. The client did not receive the wages that she was entitled to, but has no proof of employment. The employer has indicated that in his view the client never worked for him and therefore there is no question of money being owed. Without proof of employment, there is little that the client can do.
A Fair Employment Commission
In our report CAS argue that it is time for the Government to give exploited workers somewhere to turn, through the creation of a ‘fair employment commission’ with the legal powers and resources both to secure individual vulnerable workers their rights, and to root out the rogues. A fair employment commission would need to:
- Cover all basic statutory employments rights, ensuring that there are no gaps in enforcement
- Have legal powers that enable the commission to secure individual workers their statutory rights and impose effective sanctions on persistently exploitative employers
- Cover all categories of workers, including agency workers
- Take a proactive approach to reach out to those who are too unaware or too intimidated to complain about poor employment practice
Employees have rights, but the system of enforcement often does not enable them to enforce them. As a result, a minority of employers are making the lives of their employees a misery. A fair employment commission – including all employment rights and all types of workers – would go some way towards empowering employees to uphold their rights.