THE TUC HAS RELEASED NEW ANALYSIS which shows that Covid-19 mortality rates during the pandemic are twice as high in insecure jobs than in other professions.

By “insecure jobs”, the TUC is referring to occupations with a higher proportion of insecure workers. Insecure workers are those on a contract that does not guarantee regular hours or income (including zero-hours contracts, agency work and casual work), or they are in low-paid self-employment (earning less than the government’s National Living Wage).

The analysis shows that:

  • The Covid-19 male mortality rate in insecure occupations was 51 per 100,000 people aged 20-64, compared to 24 per 100,000 people in less insecure occupations.
  • The Covid-19 female mortality rate in insecure occupations was 25 per 100,000 people, compared to 13 per 100,000 in less insecure occupations.

The union body has called the figures “stark” and says that more research is needed to understand the links between precarious work and risk of infection and death.

The TUC says workers in insecure jobs are having to shoulder more risk of infection during this pandemic, while facing the “triple whammy” of a lack of sick pay, fewer rights and endemic low pay.

The union body points out that those in insecure occupations have largely continued to work outside the home during the pandemic, and that many key workers are in insecure employment. The union body is calling for the pandemic to be a “turning point” so that everyone can enjoy dignity at work.

Insecure workers account for one in nine workers – with women, disabled workers and BME workers more likely to be in precarious work.

According to the TUC’s analysis, sectors such as care, leisure, and the elementary occupations have high rates of insecure work – compared to managerial, professional and administrative sectors which have some of the lowest.

Sick pay failing insecure workers

New TUC polling, conducted by BritainThinks, shows that insecure workers are almost ten times more likely to say they receive no sick pay at all compared to those in secure work (67 per cent to seven per cent). The TUC says the UK’s lack of decent sick pay is failing those in insecure work and undermining any prospect of a safe return to work.

The UK currently has one of the lowest rates of sick pay in Europe and nearly two million workers, including many in insecure work, do not earn enough to qualify for it. The union body says this lack of sick pay is forcing those in insecure work to choose between doing the right thing and putting food on the table.

The TUC is calling on ministers to increase statutory sick pay to at least the rate of the real Living Wage and make it available for all. This will stop insecure workers suffering hardship when required to self-isolate.

Disposable labour

Insecure workers are unlikely to benefit from the full range of employment rights that permanent, more secure workers are entitled to, including vital safeguards such as unfair dismissal and redundancy protections. The TUC says, as a result, too many employers treat insecure workers like “disposable labour”.

The union body is calling on the government to bring forward the long-awaited employment bill to boost workers’ rights and end exploitative workplace practices such as zero hours contracts. As almost half of workers on zero hours contracts and over half in agency work are Black or Minority Ethnic workers, the TUC points out that this would also help deliver race equality at work.

In 2019, the government promised that it would bring forward a new employment bill to improve people’s rights at work. But there has been no sign of the legislation since it was first announced in the post-election 2019 Queen’s Speech.

The TUC says that the Queen’s Speech on 11 May 2021 must contain an employment bill, saying it is a “moment of truth” for the government’s commitment to improving workers’ rights.

Frances O’Grady, the TUC General Secretary, said: “No matter your race or background, everyone deserves fair pay and to be treated with dignity and respect. But during the pandemic, we’ve seen higher infections and death rates in insecure jobs.

“Too many workers are trapped on zero hours contracts or in other sorts of insecure work, and are hit by a triple whammy of endemic low pay, few workplace rights and low or no sick pay. Lots of them are the key workers we all applauded – like social care workers, delivery drivers and coronavirus testing staff. This must be a turning point.

“Ministers must urgently raise statutory sick pay to the level of the real Living Wage, and make sure everyone can get it – including those on zero hours contracts and other forms of insecure work. If people can’t observe self-isolation when they need to, the virus could rebound. No-one should have to choose between doing the right thing and putting food on the table.

“And ministers must tackle the scourge of insecure work by finally bringing forward their promised Employment Bill. It’s time to ban zero-hours contracts, false self-employment and to end exploitation at work.”

* Read Covid-19 and Insecure Work here.

* Source: Trades Union Congress