Double whammy for the underpaid and underemployed

double whammy

Despite talk of economic recovery, more people than ever are looking for extra hours to make ends meet, and the trend towards underemployment shows little sign of slowing. To make matters worse, the people with the least job and income security of all are being denied vital working rights everyone should be entitled to.

First, the facts:

TUC analysis of the Labour Force Survey recently revealed that while unemployment has fallen by over 400,000 since early 2012, underemployment (i.e. people working part-time because they can’t get a full-time job, or wanting more hours in their current job) has risen by 93,000. And at 3.4 million the current level of underemployment is over a million higher (46%) than it was before the recession. There are over 1.3 million people working part-time because they cannot find full-time work, with many of the 4.52 million classified as self-employed also lacking the hours they need. The government has argued that there are over 100,000 fewer people who say they are under-employed compared to a year ago. They are wrong. Yes, it is true that the number of people working part-time because they can’t get a full-time job has gone down slightly. But these figures are chosen carefully: they don’t include the 36,000 self-employed or the 57,000 employees who class themselves as underemployed.

“With more jobs being created, you’d expect that underemployment would be on the wane too,” says TUC General Secretary, Frances O’Grady. “But sadly with part-time, temporary, low-paid jobs often the only work that people can get, underemployment remains stubbornly high and is still rising.”

Poor and poorer

A large proportion of the growing number of underemployed workers are found working in precarious, increasingly casualised jobs, or ‘self-employed’, as discussed recently on this blog and in our Decent Jobs Deficit report. For them, underemployment is a double whammy: less money, fewer basic rights. Take Statutory Sick Pay (SSP), a basic employment right that full-time employees can and should take for granted. The same is not true of ‘zero hours’ or contract work, which does not guarantee regular work for employees. Sick pay is granted on the basis of a minimum period of (continuous) service and weekly earnings above £111. Yet by definition, zero hours and many other casualised contracts do not treat workers as regular, continuous employees, because they don’t guarantee either regular work or regular income. A third of all workers on zero hours contracts work 15 hours or fewer each week, whilst one in three report they have no regular amount of income. They are five times less likely to qualify for SSP than permanent employees. They earn nearly £300 a week less than permanent employees doing similar work, with nearly two in five earning less than the minimum £111 a week to qualify for SSP. (As a consequence, people in insecure jobs are more likely to turn up for work even if they are unwell – putting their clients’ or fellow workers’ health at risk.)

There is an urgent need for zero hours and contract work to be brought in line with SSP. We’re calling for proper contracts guaranteeing normal working hours for people working regular hours. We want workers to be rewarded for their flexibility in working irregular hours. And we’re also demanding the same rights to equal pay for agency workers as for permanent staff and all workers to get the same basic entitlements at work, such as redundancy pay and the right to return to work after maternity or paternity leave. Employment levels may be rising, but the jobs recovery will only be truly underway when underemployment, and the injustices arising from it, are tackled head on.

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