Frances O’Grady, the TUC general secretary, has urgedworkers to confront low wage growth and zero-hours contracts by joining a trade union. Unions have struggled to extend their reach to the kinds of workplace where the use of temporary or casual staff is widespread.
“To every worker – freelance, contract, temporary or permanent – I say: get a group of your colleagues together and join a union. Feel that support, that confidence and that pride that only comes when you stand with your workmates and use your collective sway to make working life better,” O’Grady said in a New Year message. “According to the government, we’re out of the doldrums and getting back to economic health. But not everyone is feeling it. It will take until 2018 for average earnings just to get back to the real value they held in 2008. Ten years of pay going backwards while everything else – transport, housing, bills – gets ever more expensive and debt piles up. A lost decade.”
She expressed concern about the growing evidence of a two-speed recovery, with consumer spending and house prices expanding strongly, while manufacturing and exports have remained weak. Britain is at risk of turning into a ‘below stairs’ labour market – college leavers are eight times more likely to find work in the service sector than in manufacturing. And when they do find work, it’s too often dead end, with little chance to progress O’Grady said.
Trade unions have come under attack from the government, which has introduced legislation to curtail industrial action. But with average wages growing at just 2% a year, and zero-hours contracts becoming increasingly prevalent. The TUC calculates the average worker is still £40 a week worse off in real terms than before the financial crisis – the equivalent of over £2,000 a year. The Institute of Directors (IoD) ,which speaks for business pointed out “The last few years have been a good period for larger business, as they have been able to borrow cheaply, and wage growth has been slow.”