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Full report of the Commission released

The full version of the Commission’s report, “Hard Work, Hidden Lives”, with a much deeper level of evidence on all areas investigated by the Commission, has now been published and can be downloaded now from this site. You can also read the Commissioners’ Introduction.

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Commission Short Report released

CoVE short reportWe’ve released the shorter version of the Commission’s report, “Hard Work, Hidden Lives”. You can download it or read the executive summary and recommendations.

Our full report will be published this evening (Wed 7), to coincide with our formal launch, and you’ll be able to download it from this site.

Exploitative gangmasters have licenses revoked

Nine licensed gangmasters have been found to be violating standards imposed by the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA). The gangmasters were supplying hundreds of mainly Polish, Lithuanian, Latvian and Bulgarian workers to pick daffodils and vegetables in Cornwall.  During a multi-agency operation, officers unearthed evidence of the violated standards and have since been carrying out further investigations. Officers found:

  • One gangmaster was subcontracting workers from a number of unlicensed gangmasters.
  • Workers employed by one labour provider had not been paid for three weeks.
  • A weekly £10 ‘administration fee’ charged to workers reduced pay below national minimum wage levels.
  • Agricultural minimum wage was not paid.
  • A daily £12 transport charge per worker was deducted for a three-mile journey
  • Excessive accommodation charges.
  • Personal protective equipment had to be purchased by the workers.
  • Faulty minibuses used to transport workers including a faulty tyre, faulty handbrake and a dangerously loose battery.
  • The drivers of minibuses did not have the correct licences to transport others (D licence and PSV licence).

Chairman of the GLA, Paul Whitehouse, said:

“The GLA is intent on cracking down on illegal work practice to protect workers from exploitation. Following this recent phase of our on-going enforcement operations, licences will be revoked, the question is how many. We will know more as soon as we have finalised our investigations work. Labour providers who continue to ignore the rights of workers and exploit the vulnerable should be in no doubt that we will catch them through our unannounced raids and other enforcement activities. Where we find abuses we will apply the maximum sanctions. We will not stand for worker exploitation and we will stamp it out.”

TUC welcomes apprentices bill

Last month TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber commented on the Draft Apprenticeships Reform Bill from the Queen’s Speech stating:

“The TUC welcomes measures to improve the number of apprenticeships on offer to young people starting out in the world of work and to older workers looking for a change of direction. More must be done to encourage employers to take on more young black and Asian people, and greater efforts are needed to support women into apprenticeships in areas like engineering and construction that are still dominated by the boys.
“If apprenticeships are to offer meaningful career opportunities, they must be of good quality, where apprentices are treated well and earn a decent wage. Legislative powers to regulate and promote apprenticeships give the opportunity to do just that, and it is important we get it right. The Government should ask the Low Pay Commission to review the current minimum wage exemptions that apply to apprentices.”

Skills Active also stated that the bill proposed in the Queen’s Speech is being aimed at reforming the current apprenticeship system. The Bill will be jointly led by the Department for Innovation, University and Skills and the Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform

This bill intends to regulate and promote their availability, as part of a drive to provide more workplace skills.  It runs alongside a review of apprenticeships currently taking place and which is due for completion in January 2008. 

There are currently 250,000 apprenticeships available, offered by 130,000 employers. In step with plans to keep all young people in education or training until the age of 18, by 2013 all school leavers will be entitled to an apprenticeship place. The government has a target of 500,000 apprenticeships in the UK by 2020 – 400,000 of which will be in England. The plans call for a statutory definition of what an apprenticeship means and a “right to public funding for apprenticeship programmes”.  It also proposes a duty on public bodies to offer apprenticeships and will amend the minimum wage regulations on the current apprenticeship exemptions.

In addition, on Wednesday the 28th of November TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber responded to the Prime Minister’s commitment to ask the Low Pay Commission to look into apprenticeship pay by saying: “The TUC welcomes the Prime Minister’s commitment to look into apprenticeship pay. Apprenticeships help many thousands of people into skilled work every year, but the poverty wages that some receive deter people from taking them up and lead to many dropping out.”

“Increasing pay will boost the reputation of apprenticeships as an attractive route into work. This is vital if the Government is to deliver its expanded apprenticeship programme, announced last week.”

TUC welcomes review of right to request flexible working

Last month the TUC welcomed the announcement of the Queen’s Speech that the Government is to review the existing right that some working parents and all carers have to request flexible working.  In addition, TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said:

“Hopefully the review of the right to request to work flexibly will significantly increase the numbers of working mums and dads who are able to ask their employers to change the hours they work. 

“For most parents, the right to request ceases to exist the minute their child turns six, yet parents of school age children are perhaps those most likely to need a degree of flexibility from their employers. 

“Being able to work flexibly would be a real bonus to parents with children at schools that have no breakfast or after school clubs, and others would jump at the chance to alter their hours so that they can spend more time with their children during school holidays. The TUC looks forward to taking part in the review.”

Since last month many other organisations have commented on the announcement as well including Mike Emmott, CIPD Employee Relations Adviser who said:

 “We welcome the government’s intention to consult on extending the right to request flexible working. The CIPD has argued for this right to be extended to all workers. The light-touch nature of the existing right to request has had a positive impact on work-life balance without causing undue difficulties for employers.

“However, the danger with ever larger groups of people entitled to request flexible working, and a smaller number not entitled to do so, is that divisions will grow up in the workplace. Many enlightened employers already allow employees to work flexibly regardless of their family status. An extension of the right to request to all workers would level the playing field, without compelling employers to offer flexible working where this is incompatible with business needs.”

“A bill will be introduced to ensure that young people stay in education or training until age 18 and to provide new rights to skills training for adults.”

You can seek guidance from the BERR site, which states:

“Flexible working opportunities benefit everyone: employers, employees and their families.  Many employers know that it makes good business sense to provide flexible working opportunities for their staff because they enable them to:
-retain skilled staff and reduce recruitment costs;
-raise their staff morale and decrease absenteeism; and
 -react to changing market conditions more effectively.
For individuals, the opportunity to work flexibly can enable them to strike a better balance between their home and work responsibilities.”

Parliamentary event – access to healthcare for vulnerable migrants

The health charity, Medact, as part of coalition of voluntary groups, is leading a campaign aimed at protecting the rights of the most vulnerable migrants needing health care.  The campaign is concerned about government plans to restrict access to NHS primary health care for migrants. The group is also currently gathering support from MPs for an Early Day Motion.
On Tuesday 11th December, there will be a meeting in Parliament to provide an
opportunity for campaign supporters to meet with MPs to discuss the future of health care for vulnerable migrants. The meeting will start at 6:00 pm and finish at 8:00. Speakers include: Jon Cruddas, MP; Dr Sally Hargreaves – Research Fellow, International Health Unit, Imperial College; Dr Angela Burnett – GP, Medact; Rayah Feldman – community based campaigner for migrants’ rights; Susan Wright – Director, Medecin du Monde UK; and A migrant health service user. The Chair will be Wayne Farah – Newham Primary Care Trust.
The meeting will also launch a new book, Access to Health Care for Undocumented
Migrants in Europe, published by PICUM – the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants. For further details or to register, contact Medact or 020 7324 4739

Union investigates gross health and safety violations

Union officials are investigating claims of “gross breaches” of health
and safety and employment law at a firm which hired migrant workers, it
was revealed yesterday. Unite said it had been made aware of what appeared to be “horrific abuses” of vulnerable workers at a salad packing plant in Oxfordshire. The factory employed mainly Polish workers and there are claims that part of the roof collapsed last month.

Jack Dromey, deputy general secretary of Unite, said: “Our first priority is to move urgently to protect these workers and give them union backing. We will of course investigate the allegations fully but we will have no hesitation to bring the full weight of the authorities against those who are responsible. The exploitation and abuse of vulnerable workers in Britain is intolerable. This is not the first case, and it won’t be the last.”

Victory over flouting of minumum wage at Malvern College

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers has reported that it has won a victory over flouting of the national minimum wage by Malvern College. In an out of court settlement the school agreed to pay Barbara White, a resident assistant house mistress, £12,000 because her salary was lower than the national minimum wage.  As resident assistant to the house mistress at the boarding school – where fees for boarders are over £25,000 a year – Barbara White was contracted to work 121.5 hours a week for £15,138 a year plus accommodation. When her contract started in September 2004 her hourly rate of pay was £3.75, while the national minimum wage was £4.50 an hour.

Martin Pilkington, ATL’s head of legal and member services, said: ‘There can be no excuse for this type of exploitation. The irony is just incredible – a school with pupils from some of the wealthiest families in the UK paying its own staff less than the minimum wage. We are obviously delighted by this victory.’

© Trades Union Congress 2007