TUC warns bosses over zero hours

THE TRADES Union conference (TUC) annual conference opened last Monday with general secretary Frances O’Grady warning that greedy employers “who treat their workers like animals” will have “no place to hide”.

She spoke of the need to deal with the types of worker exploitation typified by Sports Direct, and which are becoming more widespread.

“Our movement showed the spirit that inspires us in the Sports Direct campaign. After months of Unite’s patient organising, winning public support and using trade union shareholder power, we got a result.

“An end to zero-hours contracts for retail staff, no more ‘six strikes and out’, and at long last the chance to get agency workers onto permanent contracts. A proper win for workers.

“Of course, it’s not over yet. Sports Direct may be in the spotlight now, but they are not the only ones. There are other big companies that bring shame on our country. So let me give fair warning to any greedy business that treats its workers like animals — we will shine a light on you.

“Run a big brand with a dirty little secret? A warehouse of people paid less than the minimum wage? A fleet of couriers who are slaves to an app? Let me put you on notice.

“There will be no hiding place. We will organise and we will win. Britain’s unions will not rest until every worker gets the fair treatment they deserve.”

O’Grady is right that there is a long way to go. Even at Sports Direct the workers in retail outlets will have the opportunity to move from zero hours to a guaranteed 12 hours per week — hardly a living wage.

And most of the workers employed in their notorious warehouse in Shirebrook are employed via an agency and will not yet become full-time paid workers.

The giant parcel delivery company Hermes, which delivers good for John Lewis, JD Williams and other retailers, has also been reported by former workers for paying below the minimum wage.

The company claims the minimum wage does not apply because, it says, all its workers are self-employed and are paid per delivery, not by the hour.

One self-employed courier for Hermes provided evidence that suggested she took home approximately £5.90 an hour over two weeks of recent work and another showed invoice data that indicated she earned no more than £6.70 per hour. A third courier provided estimates that she earned £5.50 per hour over nine days. All three of those who delivered parcels said they worked six days a week, from three to six hours per day.

In Haringey, north London, 17 care workers, with the help of the union Unison, are suing the company Sevacare for paying below the minimum wage. They are often employed to live-in with elderly people who are highly dependent and have round-the-clock needs. But they are only paid for 10 hours. They have payslips that indicate that for the rest of the day and night they are paid at just £3.27 per hour, even though they are on duty for 24 hours per day and are forbidden to leave the house during those hours.

Unison says an employment tribunal will examine some of the worst breaches of pay rules it has ever seen. Sevacare has contracts with a number of local authorities across England, providing care and support to 9,600 people each week, but no longer has a contract with Haringey.