CWU urges Commission: ‘End the scandal of low pay & insecure employment’

Lower-paid workers have once again shown their value to the nation and it’s time for the nation to end poverty pay and insecure employment, argues the CWU in a robust report to the Low Pay Commission.

The Commission (LPC) has launched its regular public consultation on statutory pay rates and has invited contributions and written submissions from businesses, trade unions, campaigning charities and other organisations and individuals as the opening stage of this process.

These contributions, taken together, will inform the Commission’s own discussions as it puts together its formal recommendations to the Government in the LPC’s final report – which is scheduled for October.

“As a significant trade union, we regularly take part in this review and this year’s submission was particularly important,” general secretary Dave Ward tells CWU News.

“Low pay and insecure employment are the very worst aspects of today’s world of work and our union has been campaigning on these themes for many years – but this year, when we’ve seen how frontline workers have carried the nation through this awful Covid-19 crisis, surely we have to make sure that statutory pay rates are significantly increased.

“Britain’s cleaners, shop assistants, warehouse staff, delivery drivers and care workers have all carried on, have continued providing essential services to all of us – and we’ve been applauding them, and our magnificent NHS and our fantastic postal and telecommunications members too, at our front doors on Thursday evenings.

“Applause is good, but that now needs to translate into serious measures to end poverty pay and enforce proper employment rights for all – starting with a Real Living Wage for everyone,” says Dave.

A minimum wage of £10 per hour across the UK (and £10.75 in London) is the key demand in our union’s LPC document, raising the statutory rate from its current £8.72.

As our submission document states:

‘It is a shameful indictment of Britain’s low wage economy that 56 per cent of people in poverty are actually in a working family, compared with 39 per cent 20 years ago.’ (CWU Low Pay Commission Submission Paragraph 4)

Within our own union, while the vast majority of our members are in strongly-unionised workplaces and companies and are paid well above the statutory minimum, there are around 4,000 who are on or near the current statutory minimum, who are ‘largely employed in cleaning, security, catering and call centre roles by a number of different companies and employment agencies including Compass, Royal Mail Property and Facilities Solutions (RMPFS), Quadrant and ISS.’ (CWU LPC Submission Paragraph 2)


And in a survey of members within this category carried out by the CWU Research Department, ‘69 per cent said their pay did not cover all of their outgoings and only one-third reported being able to save more than £50 per month.’ (Paragraph 14)


Among those 4,000 low-paid members are several hundred postmasters who are classed as self-employed, as are some delivery-driver members – who are not entitled to statutory minimum pay because of this status.


‘A recent poll shows that three quarters of postmasters are paid less than the NLW, and it is well documented that self-employed delivery drivers regularly are paid below the minimum wage.  The CWU is calling for worker status for both of these groups and an end to bogus self-employment.’ (Par 3)


Bogus self-employment is one of several wider points made in our submission, which calls on the Government to regulate on a whole range of employment status and insecure employment issues:

‘These include but are not limited to: control over the number of hours worked, tackling one-sided flexibility in the labour market, the unequal provision of employment rights, stringent restrictions on the activity of trade unions, the level of in-work and out-of-work benefits and a lack of enforcement.’ (Par 6)

This enforcement weakness is exposed further on in the document, which states that ‘2018/19 saw the greatest number of underpayments than ever before…totalling £24.4 million for 220,000 workers.’ (Par 23) that, according to Employment Tribunal records, since 2017, just one of the 141 firms found to have underpaid the minimum wage were subject to a financial penalty in addition to repaying arrears,’ (Par 24) and that, of several thousand firms that have failed to pay the minimum wage over the last 20 years, only 14 have been criminally prosecuted, incurring average fines less than £3,000.’ (Par 24)


To remedy this, the CWU calls for a single enforcement agency with statutory powers, as well as a significant increase in penalties for employers who break the rules.


The document is nine pages long and covers various different aspects of today’s world of work, as well as a section explaining how the fair-pay-for-all principle actually boosts the whole economy, while some of the (anonymised) quotes from low-paid workers give a real human sense of the struggles faced by so many workers in our nation today.


Dave Ward says: “We believe that this submission makes a compelling case for a significant rise in statutory minimum pay rates – as well as re-emphasising many of the key messages this union has been campaigning on for several years in terms of the world of work.


“As well as hoping to advise and guide the members of the Low Pay Commission, we’re also hoping that our own members will take the opportunity to read it and share with colleagues and friends.


“It’s vitally important that we, as a trade union, play our part in ensuring that the UK properly values its workers, who do so much for this country every day of the week.”