THE TRADES UNION CONGRESS (TUC) has warned that millions of workers lack basic protections if they lose their jobs in the coming months. New analysis shows that 7.5 million employees (one in four) in England began this year with no protection from unfair dismissal.

Under current law, workers must be employed for two years to qualify for unfair dismissal protection. The TUC says this should be a day one right.

People working in industries hit hardest by the pandemic – such as hospitality and retail – are most at risk of missing out on key protections, says the TUC. Nearly half (45 per cent) of hospitality staff have not been in their jobs long enough to qualify for unfair dismissal rights. And a third (32 per cent) of people working in the retail, wholesale and vehicle repair sector do not qualify for unfair dismissal rights.

The TUC says BME and young workers are most at risk of not being protected from unfair dismissal. Over half (56 per cent) of 20-24 year-olds and two-fifths (40 per cent) of 25-29 year-olds do not qualify for unfair dismissal.

This is a particular matter of concern as previous TUC analysis has shown that workers aged 25 and under are three times more likely than those over 25 to work in either accommodation and food, or arts, entertainment and recreation – two of the industries hardest hit by the virus.

The picture is also bleak for many BME workers. One in three (33 per cent) have no protection from unfair dismissal, compared to a quarter (25 per cent) of white workers.

The government promised in 2019 that it would bring forward a new employment bill to improve protections at work. But there has been no sign of the legislation. Ministers instead began reviewing hard-won rights from the EU with the view to potentially watering them down. The union body says all workers should have unfair dismissal rights from day one in the job.

The analysis shows that even returning to the previous qualifying period for unfair dismissal of 12 months would benefit 3.6 million workers – including around a million workers in health and social care and the wholesale and retail sectors.

The TUC says that improving workers’ rights and pay is a key test of Boris Johnson’s much vaunted ‘levelling up’ agenda. Commenting on the analysis, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The government must do everything possible to stop mass unemployment. This includes strengthening protections at work so people can’t be sacked unfairly. No-one should be treated like disposable labour.

“If the government is serious about levelling up Britain it must level up workers’ rights – not water down hard-won rights from the EU. People shouldn’t have to wait for two years to be protected from unfair dismissal. They should be day one rights for everybody.”

The TUC is calling on the UK government to:

  • reform the qualifying period for unfair dismissal
  • ban zero-hours contracts
  • bring in genuine two-way flexibility by giving workers a default right to work flexibly from the first day in the job, and all jobs to be advertised as flexible
  • create good quality jobs by fast-tracking £85 billion of spending on green infrastructure
  • establish a national recovery council, made up of businesses and unions alongside the government, to steer the recovery effort.

* Source: Trades Union Congress