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       Hazards, number 139, 2017
Bad job: Insecure work review 'not the game-changer needed'
A government-commissioned review of insecurity at work has failed to recognise the game-changing improvements required to solve abusive employment practices. It also ignored almost entirely the cost to health of poor, poorly paid work, warns Hazards editor Rory O’Neill, who says only the government and rogue businesses stand to benefit.


What’s not to like? The Taylor Review recommends all work in the UK's economy should be “fair and decent” with its author, Matthew Taylor, saying “fairness demands” that people, particularly those on lower incomes, have routes to progress in work.

The report, which looked at issues including employment in the ‘gig’ economy and which was published on 11 July 2017, recommends that firms that control and supervise their workers should pay benefits including National Insurance. It also says there should be a new category of worker called a ‘dependent contractor’, who should be given extra protection. And workers should have the ‘right to request’ guaranteed hours, and there should be sick pay for the low paid.

GOOD GRIEF Theresa May talks good ‘good work’ but her policies are undermining pay, safety and working conditions.

It hit the spot for ministers. Welcoming the report, Theresa May said: “With good work can come dignity and a sense of self-worth. It can promote good mental and physical health, and emotional well-being.” The prime minister added: “As the world of work changes, our practices and laws must properly reflect and accommodate those changes. Because good work is in the interests of good business… If we are to deliver our vision for Britain as a high-wage, high-skill economy then we know that we have to invest in good work.”

The problem is the prime minister talks good ‘good work’, but then it is back to business as usual. Her government is not making laws better and more relevant, it is axing employment and safety protections wholesale and, for good measure, culling the inspectors that might have enforced them.

Work at any price is the priority, an aspiration so central to the Conservative model it has spent £40m and counting to ensure the sick and dying are dragooned off Employment and Support Allowance and in to work.

Not good work. Any work. 

Quality research

The review, which only took a superficial look at the health implications of insecure work, called for a ‘more proactive’ approach to workplace health, it noted: “The shape and content of work and individual health and well-being are strongly related.”

More detailed analyses have established insecure work is likely to be considerably less safe and markedly less healthy (Hazards 138). And the evidence keeps coming.

A Manchester University study published in August 2017, which examined hormone levels and other biomarkers in over 1,000 adults who were unemployed during 2009-2010, found those who moved into poor quality jobs had elevated risks for a range of health problems, compared to adults who remained unemployed.

Professor Tarani Chandola, lead author on the study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, noted: “Job quality cannot be disregarded from the employment success of the unemployed. Just as good work is good for health, we must also remember that poor quality work can be detrimental to health.”

Indicators of poor quality work were defined as low pay, low job satisfaction, low job control and high job anxiety. For many, these are the hallmarks of their modern, insecure jobs.

DELIVERING NOTHING Britain’s army of insecure workers will see little improvement as a result of the Taylor review, unions fear.

At the launch of the Taylor report, Theresa May noted: “While avoiding overbearing regulation, we will make sure people have the rights and protections they need. That means building on our high employment rate and low unemployment rate – and continuing to strive for full employment.”

But one person’s ‘over-bearing regulation’, is another’s protection. May’s government has an unhealthy obsession with deregulation, which has created a fertile ground for exploitation. It is a template for high employment, and low standards – and the statistics prove it.

The prime minister is ‘proud’ the unemployment rate is the lowest it has been since 1975. But there is a disconnect between good work and any work.

A Cardiff University study published in May 2017 reported that in 2015 “60 per cent of people of all ages living in poverty were living in working households – the highest figure yet recorded.” It added “one-quarter of respondents living in workless households who found work entered in-work poverty.”

Low pay goes hand in hand with low health and safety standards at work. Occupational injuries and diseases like diabetes, heart disease and cancer frequently come with the job. The evidence is clear, and growing.

Days before Taylor’s report was published in July 2017, a study by University College London’s Institute of Education reported that ‘precarious workers’ are less likely to be in good health, and are at higher risk of poor mental health than workers with stable jobs (see Being on a zero hours contract is bad for your health).

A report this year in Hazards examined evidence on these health effects. Make or break concluded: “‘Insecure employment’ covers a lot of sins – fear of losing your ostensibly ‘permanent’ job, inability to find permanent work, scratching a living from multiple jobs or working on short-hours or zero hour contracts, at the whim of someone who claims not to be your employer.

“They all have one thing in common – they are far more likely to damage your health than secure, permanent work.”

Spectacular failure

Unions expressed disappointment with the review’s recommendations. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “This is not the game-changer needed to end insecurity at work. A ‘right to request’ guaranteed hours is no right at all for many workers trapped on zero hours contracts. And workers deserve the minimum wage for every minute they work, not just the time employers choose to pay them for.”

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “This review raised the prospect that the scourge of insecure working in this country would be tackled. It raised the hope that work would once again pay and there would be no profit in exploitation. It indicated that fairness and dignity would be restored to working life. But it has spectacularly failed to deliver on any of these.”

He added: “More and better can and must be done to ensure that, in the fifth largest economy on the planet, working people are granted the dignity and security they deserve. This union will continue that fight.”

Dave Ward, general secretary of union CWU, said: “For workers across the UK the labour market is like the Wild West. Exploitation is exploitation whether it’s in a sweatshop or at the end of an iPhone and the Taylor Review falls way short of addressing the problems workers face.”

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said the review was “weak and business friendly,” offering nothing to the “growing army” of people in insecure work.

Criticising the report’s claim that “the best way to achieve better work is not national regulation but responsible corporate governance”, Tim Roache, GMB general secretary, said: “The exploitation of insecure workers is a deliberate and a core part of company business models, where any loophole is exploited to pay workers less and make more profit for employers.

“This isn't a quirk of the system, this is the system – and without regulation this system will inevitably continue.”

Janet Newsham of the national Hazards Campaign said “regulation is vital” to the protection of health, safety and decent conditions at work.

TUC head Frances O’Grady said Theresa May should act on the report’s recommendations, but added: “We need a proper crackdown on bad bosses who treat their staff like disposable labour.”

According to Theresa May: “Because work is such a central aspect of most of our lives, we should also care about how people are treated when they are at work, whether they feel safe and secure, with the opportunity to get on and make progress.”

Unions would argue axing employment protection, eviscerating and commercialising the Health and Safety Executive, shackling unions and hounding the sick are not a recipe for either safety or security.

While the government pursues these policies, good work will be an illusion for most, and the workforce will remain as insecure as the prime minister herself.


Good work: The Taylor review of modern working practices, Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, 11 July 2017.

Make or break: How bad jobs are driving us over the edge, Hazards magazine, number 138, 2017.

Tarani Chandola and Nan Zhang. Re-employment, job quality, health and allostatic load biomarkers: prospective evidence from the UK Household Longitudinal Study, International Journal of Epidemiology, dyx150, 10 August 2017. https://doi.org/10.1093/ije/dyx150

Rod Hick and Alba Lanau. In-work poverty in the UK: Problem, policy analysis and platform for action, Final Report, Cardiff University, May 2017.

Economic activity and health: Initial findings from the Next Steps Age 25 Sweep, Institute of Education, UCL, July 2017.



Being on a zero hours contract is bad for your health

Young adults who are employed on zero hours contracts are less likely to be in good health, and are at higher risk of poor mental health than workers with stable jobs, according to research published on 5 July 2017 by the Institute of Education at University College London.

Researchers from the IoE’s Centre for Longitudinal Studies (CLS) analysed data on more than 7,700 people living in England who were born in 1989-90 and who are being followed by a study called Next Steps. They found that at age 25, people on zero hours contracts and those who were unemployed were less likely to report feeling healthy, compared to those in more secure employment.

Those with zero hours contracts were also at greater risk of reporting symptoms of psychological distress. However, young adults who were unemployed were more than twice as likely to suffer from mental ill-health compared to those who were in work. And, although shiftworkers were at no greater risk than those working regular hours to be in poor health, they were more likely to have psychological problems.

The lead author, Dr Morag Henderson, said: “There is evidence that those with a precarious relationship to the labour market, such as shift workers, zero hours contract holders and the unemployed are more at risk of poor mental health and physical health than their peers.

“One explanation for these findings is that financial stress or the stress associated with having a low-status job increases the risk of poor mental health. It may also be that the worry of having no work or irregular work triggers physical symptoms of stress, including chest pain, headaches and muscle tension.”

Economic activity and health: Initial findings from the Next Steps Age 25 Sweep, Institute of Education, UCL, July 2017.


Union exposes big rise in construction self employed

Trade union Unite has said employment rights need a major overhaul after new figures demonstrated bogus self-employment in construction is out of control. A Freedom of Information request by Unite has revealed that, in the past year, at least 1,076,000 construction workers were paid via the Construction Industry Scheme (CIS), an 8 per cent increase over twelve months.

In total 47 per cent of the entire construction workforce is now paid via CIS, the stand-alone tax system for construction workers who their employer classifies as (usually bogusly) self-employed.

In 2014 the government introduced measures that barred construction workers operating via engagers (employment agencies and payroll companies) from being self-employed, however the figures revealed by Unite show that this has failed and instead has led to a huge increase in workers being paid via umbrella companies.

This means the worker having to pay both employers’ and employees’ national insurance contributions as well as a plethora of other deductions from their wages. These workers have all the employment characteristics of an employee but are denied even the most basic employment rights such as holiday and sick pay and can be instantly dismissed without warning. However the employers win by not having to pay employers’ national insurance contributions of 13.8 per cent or employee benefits such as holiday pay.

Gail Cartmail, assistant general secretary of Unite, said: “These figures demonstrate that bogus self-employment in construction is out of control. Employers are simply ignoring the rules in order to line their pockets and deny workers their rights.” She added: “The only way that workers will be treated fairly and decently is by introducing clear rules which ensure that workers are either genuinely self-employed or paid by a standard PAYE method.

“Without such a reform productivity in construction will remain low, accidents and ill health will be high and the industry will fail to train sufficient numbers of apprentices.”


Trade unions tackling insecure work

Over three million people – one in ten of the UK workforce – now face insecurity at work. Not only do they often face uncertainty about their working hours, they also miss out on rights and protections that many of us take for granted, including being able to return to the same job after having a baby, or the right to sick pay when they cannot work.

A June 2017 TUC report, The gig is up: Trade unions tackling insecure work, shows the impact of insecurity at work on workers, and on the UK’s economy and public finances. It reports back from a TUC survey of people in insecure jobs, enabling them to communicate their experience of work in their own words. The report also sets out what policy-makers could do to ensure that the modern world of work is one in which everyone can have a decent job – not one of ever-increasing insecurity.

The TUC says it wants policy-makers to: Help more workers to have voice at work; upgrade the framework of employment rights to make it fit for the twenty-first century; make sure these rights are properly enforced; and ensure that the tax, social security and pensions systems all encourage employers to offer decent jobs, and guarantees that everyone has a decent standard of living when they’re not at work.


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Bad job

A government-commissioned review of insecurity at work has failed to recognise the game-changing improvements required to solve abusive employment practices. It also ignored almost entirely the cost to health of poor, poorly paid work, warns Hazards editor Rory O’Neill, who says only the government and rogue businesses stand to benefit.

Quality research
Spectacular failure

Web resources
Work-related suicide
Drug and alcohol use
Job insecurity

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Being on a zero hours contract is bad for your health
Big rise in construction self employed
Trade unions tackling insecure work