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Hazards issue 128, October-December 2014
Low paid work comes with high work risks
Badly paid work guarantees more than hardship. Because low pay goes hand in hand with low health and safety standards, occupational injuries and diseases like diabetes and cancer frequently come with the job.

Occupational cancer is on the whole a blue collar condition. Ditto most of the major workplace killers. In most cases for most occupational health and safety problems, the risk goes up as your pay goes down.

It is pretty obvious why. Low pay affects your choices. It influences whether you work more overtime, extra shifts, report an injury, take sick leave. And it leaves you in jobs that typically have the insecure, dirty and dangerous hallmarks of risky work. Or jobs that are mindnumbingly dull and depressing.

It is a problem affecting more and more of us. A record five million UK workers are now in low-paid jobs, an October 2014 report from the think tank the Resolution Foundation concluded. This growing band face a synergy between their low pay and the hazards that come hand-in-hand.

A study published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology on 25 September 2014, for example, initially found no link between long hours and diabetes. But when it factored in low pay, it found people who worked more than 55 hours a week in manual labour or other types of ‘low socioeconomic status jobs’ were 30 per cent more likely to develop diabetes than those who worked 35 to 40 hours a week.

The low pay effect impacts on white collar workers too. The major Whitehall II study of UK civil servants showed that stress, sickness and heart disease all went up as your grade went down.

Over 22 per cent of UK employees are now part-time, a November 2014 TUC analysis of official figures found, and the union body warned the proportion is rising. For low paid workers to make end meets that can mean having two or more jobs. Research published in the American Journal of Public Health in January 2014 found that multiple job holders in the US had a “significantly” higher injury rate for work- and non work-related injuries when compared to single job holders.

The study authors said the increased risk outside the workplace may be associated with fatigue or the “potentially hectic structure” of working two jobs.

RIGHT DIRECTION  A worldwide campaign for safe pay rates for transport workers was launched in August 2014 by the sector’s global union federation ITF. The ‘Safe rates and a safe industry- we're in, are you?’ campaign argues that professional drivers should not have to speed to make a living wage. It is a message lost on some employers. In February 2014, the Amazon Anonymous campaign called on retail giant Amazon to pay its workers a living wage and said its 3-points-and-you’re-out disciplinary system penalises workers who have work-related injuries and traffic accidents.

INEQUALITY HURTS Workplaces with big pay gaps between the highest and lowest wage earners not only suffer more industrial disputes and higher staff turnover, they also make their workers sick. A January 2014 report by the UK High Pay Centre found on average workplaces where top earners get eight times the pay of junior staff report at least one case a year of work-related illness, whereas workplaces with pay differentials of 5 or less do not report any.


HIDDEN RISKS  Risks faced by low paid female workers are routinely dismissed or ignored. Cleaners have high rates of work-related injuries and diseases caused by problems including lifting, bending, handling hazardous chemicals and waste materials and the use of heavy equipment.


GLOBAL BATTLE Eight major High Street fashion retailers announced in September 2014 they were prepared to pay more for clothes made in Cambodia. It followed a 17 September 2014 global day of action by unions in support of garment workers’ demands for a higher wage. The ongoing campaign gathered momentum after repeated reports of workers collapsing and sometimes dying at work as a consequence of poor working conditions

DOUBLE BENEFIT  Low paid jobs like waste recycling are among the UK’s most dangerous – but union power can reduce the risk and increase the pay. Commenting on the publication of The union advantage, a September 2014 guide from the TUC, general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Workers in the UK who are members of trade unions are better paid, safer at work and get more paid holidays than workers who aren’t in a union.”


GROWING PROBLEM Farmworkers’ union Unite warned when the government “‘vindictively’ axed England’s 60-year-old Agricultural Wages Board in October 2013, both wages and working standards in the sector would be further eroded. Gangmasters, who supply some of the worst paid and most exploited workers in the sector, were at the same time given greater freedom to abuse their labour, when the government reduced the powers of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA).


OTHER FOOT Forty nine minutes after returning to work after the 2013 New Year break, Simon Peckham - Britain’s highest paid director - earned as much as a worker on the living wage of £7.65 an hour earns in a year. Executive Excess, an October 2014 TUC report looking at directors’ pay in Britain’s top 350 companies, revealed the chief executive of engineering investment company Melrose was paid over £31 million in 2013 – that’s £119,836 a day.

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Badly paid work guarantees more than hardship. Because low pay goes hand in with low safety standards, occupational injuries and diseases like diabetes and cancer frequently come with the job.

Further information
The union advantage
Living Wage Foundation
High Pay Centre
Safe Rates Campaign

Hazards webpages
Working world Deadly business

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