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After 12 years of Tory government, is anyone really surprised they’ve crashed the economy again?

We need a new deal for workers now, argues Usdaw general secretary PADDY LILLIS

LOOKING at their record in government, the only real surprise is how the Conservatives can claim a reputation for economic competence. 

Here we are with yet another Tory government that has crashed the economy and yet again it is working people and the poorest in society paying for their economic incompetence. 

Boris Johnson tries to shift the blame by joining calls for wage restraint, yet real wages remain lower than in 2008 and it is absolutely clear that today’s cost-of-living crisis has not been caused by wage increases. 

Before the cost-of-living crisis, Britain desperately needed a pay rise. Now, with inflation raging beyond 11 per cent, many workers are reaching breaking point. 

Usdaw’s survey of members found that two-thirds have relied on borrowing to pay their everyday bills and around half of them are struggling with repayments.

Eighty-two per cent of working parents feel worse off now than they did last year, more than a quarter of all parents have missed meals in the last year to pay bills.

Two-thirds are significantly cutting down on heating. Shockingly, a quarter will no longer use the heating at all. 

These are the very real experiences of essential workers who were “clapped” during the pandemic and now seem to be forgotten.

The government has offered only sticking plasters that go nowhere near covering rising prices and bills, so there needs to be significant increases in minimum wage rates and fundamental reforms to end insecure work.

Usdaw’s response to the Low Pay Commission’s consultation on next year’s minimum wage rates calls for at least £12 per hour as a step towards £15 for all workers, ending rip-off youth rates. 

The pandemic clearly demonstrated just how reliant the country is on the lowest-paid workers, so if we are to truly “build back better,” surely these essential workers deserve the dignity of decent pay?

Most underpaid front-line key workers are women, who have been undervalued for too long. Female workers need equal pay.

Increasing wages is not enough on its own, the low-paid need secure work. Usdaw is calling for a minimum contract of 16 hours per week that reflects normal hours worked, for everyone who wants it. 

All too often employers are engaging workers on short-hours contracts that provide one-sided flexibility.

How can people plan their finances if they can’t guarantee their hours and therefore their income?

We also want to see zero-hours contracts banned. It is not acceptable for workers to be put on contracts that don’t guarantee them any hours at all.

Britain has one of the lowest rates of statutory sick pay of any developed country. 

Being ill has a huge financial impact on low-paid workers, when forced to live on just £99.35 per week.

Even worse, those earning less than £123 per week are not even entitled to anything. Sick pay should be for all workers, from day one, at average earnings.

There was a significant increase in abuse of shopworkers during the pandemic, which remains high. Around nine in 10 retail workers are now abused for simply doing their job. Women, young and black workers are disproportionately impacted. 

Retail crime must be tackled through raising awareness among the shopping public and ensuring local police forces have proactive strategies in place to deal with the issue. Workers deserve respect; abuse is not a part of the job.

Universal credit does not provide an effective safety net and remains universally discredited. Usdaw has consistently called for the rollout of universal credit to be halted, to allow a full review and overhaul of how the government supports the incomes of working people. 

This year’s uprating of just 3.1 per cent was shameful and claimants need a further boost, at least in line with inflation. We must have a proper social security system that supports families.

Job security remains a deep concern for many and it is still too easy to sack workers. We need stronger protections against redundancy and dismissal, from day one of employment, and an end to unscrupulous employers using “fire and rehire.” 

There must also be proper consultation about new technology and investment in skills, so that workers are able to keep up in a changing workplace.

Workers need their union more than ever. 

Too many employers are able to lock the union out of their workplaces, denying workers a collective voice and the dignity of a proper say in their working lives.

We need stronger trade union rights so that all workers can benefit from a voice at work.

This weekend I am proud to march with Usdaw comrades, alongside sisters and brothers from across the trade union and labour movement, as we call for a new deal for workers. 


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