Any further questions?

From 'From loud claps to hard cash A new settlement for Britain’s low-paid workers'

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We often have more questions submitted for our event Q&A sessions than we’re able to answer. Where this is the case, we’ll endeavour to respond to a selection of the most interesting or most representative questions that went unanswered. The questions below were submitted to our panel for the event From loud claps to hard cash: A new settlement for Britain’s low-paid workers. Nye Cominetti, co-author of the report A new settlement for the low paid responds to these questions from our audience.

How can workers’ rights be shared with the most vulnerable workers in a concise way, with localised languages used to at least provide a gateway to understanding legal terms? 

Under its Good Work Plan the previous Government extended the right to a written statement of employment rights to workers (i.e. not just employees), and conferred this right from day one (previously it applied after two months’ service). These changes came into force in April this year. Hopefully that will start to improve workers’ awareness of their employment rights.

But you make a good point about language, not least because BAME and migrant workers are more likely to suffer labour market abuses (as we found in our report last year). Although the legislation states what information must be included in the statement of employment rights, it doesn’t, as far as I’m aware, require employers to make the information available in multiple languages. I would hope employers with significant numbers of non-Englishspeaking staff are being flexible. The Government or local authorities may be able to help businesses by providing template statements of particulars in commonly spoken languages There’s precedent for Government issuing guidance in local languages, for example recently with respect to social distancing measures, and more generally in healthcare settings.

The Living Wage Foundation recently launched Living Hours, a new accreditation programme for employers who provide four weeks’ notice for shifts, contracts reflecting hours and 16 hours a week unless the worker requests otherwise – how far can this be a part of the solution to building back better? 

It’s great that the Living Wage Foundation has extended its work into hours. On pay, the Living Wage Foundation has had a direct impact through employer accreditation, but also a broader indirect impact by making the moral case for higher pay. When George Osborne adopted the ‘living wage’ language in 2016 it was a nod to the impact of that work. Hopefully we see something similar from the hours campaign. This might be both directly in terms of persuading employers to improve their behaviour on shift notice periods and contracts, but also by making the case that hours and contracts matter for lowpaid workers, and laying the groundwork for policy action.

What recommendations do you have to ensure the BAME community, who are overrepresented in low-paid jobs, are included in this conversation and actually benefit from these changes in policies? 

To what extent do we see this as an opportunity to close the ever-widening inequality gaps in terms of both gender and race. Women and ethnic minorities are overrepresented in low-paid roles, so can re-valuing these roles offer a step in improving these inequalities? 

As both questions underline – low pay cuts across other metrics of inequality. Because BAME and women are so over-represented in lowpaid work, we’d hope that the policy changes we have suggested in the report would also mean improvements for those groups. But that doesn’t mean they would solve all inequalities in the labour market, far from it. For example, we know that there are inequalities between gender and ethnic groups that aren’t ‘explained’ by the types of work people are doing or their educational background. These are referred to as pay penalties. We looked into this in a report last year and found that many groups do face significant ‘penalties’. The starkest was that faced by black male graduates, who on average earn 17 per cent less than their white male graduate counterparts, even after accounting for occupation, education, and other demographic and job characteristics. And of course, even when inequalities in pay can be ‘explained’ by differences in person and job characteristics, that doesn’t mean they are justified, since those differences can themselves be a product of inequality. So although the policies we’ve suggested would help lowpaid workers in general, they wouldn’t necessarily help solve those types of inequalities. Other policies and strategies will be needed here.

On the question of worker voice – that’s a great point, and not one we have all the answers to I’m afraid. Our suggestion regarding unions and new institutions would amplify workers’ voices in general, but with union membership uneven across ethnic groups this isn’t necessarily the way to improve the voice of BAME workers specifically. Labour Force Survey data suggests union membership rates are similar among White and Black / Black British workers, lower among Asian / Asian British workers, and low still among migrant workers, who are more vulnerable to labour market abuses. Efforts to improve worker voice should focus on those whose voices are traditionally less heard within existing organising structures in particular.