Workers are Collectively Fighting back against the Agencies that have failed to support them during the Covid-19 Pandemic.
When the government first announced the furlough scheme it said the plan was to protect people’s jobs, the plan was for workers to retain their jobs even if their employer couldn’t afford to pay them, and that the plan was for workers to be paid at least 80% of their salary.
But the passage of time has revealed the bitter truth, that thousands of workers continue to be at the mercy of agencies, payroll companies and employers who have failed to furlough them.
Bosses talk about how their workers are part of a family, how they pride themselves at putting their staff and communities at the heart of their business’s, but where they can get away with it, employers and in particular agencies have left workers bereft of income and security. Where employers care for nothing but profit, workers have to care for themselves and each other.
Throughout this global health crisis Workers have remained true to many of their employers core values of Integrity, Respect, Teamwork and Open and Honest Communication, if only the same could be said for the many Employers, Agencies and payroll companies who have failed to support Workers, these same Workers who were, up until a few months ago were ‘part of the family’.
And in the case of workers hired to work on projects that are outsourced by local authorities, when does complacency become complicity?
Agency workers are often scattered across different sites, and working in different situations. But the workers we are supporting are demonstrating that agency workers care for each other, and are able to support each other to win the security they need.
The route to being furloughed as an agency worker is tricky, and it can be treacherous when an agency has a ruthless disregard for workers. Workers all over the country are proving what can be achieved through overcoming division and collectively organising.
When agencies are so eager to disregard communication, shift the guilt, and shirk their duties it is up to workers to fight together to get the money they need.
Indications are that with wages falling and a new depression on the horizon, there will be an expansion of agency and temporary work.
Now’s the time to ensure that we are prepared, we need to keep organising. Workers are coming together, connecting, building and challenging like they’ve never done before. We’ve seen Agency Workers fight back against the refusal to furlough and they’ve won. They’ve shown that with support, strength and solidarity it can and will be done.
During this crisis, Workers have exposed the true colours of their employers, agencies and payroll companies, and unsurprisingly when things get tough the ‘core values’ of trust, respect, family, honesty and integrity these organisations hold so close have withered away, it is up to Workers to hold their bosses to account, it is up to Workers to remain united. It is the Workers who have shown true resilience in the face of adversity and it is Workers who will build these businesses back up again.
Better Than Zero are determined that a new focus on supporting agency workers can emerge from this crisis, that will make employers, agencies, government, and unions take them seriously.
Stories from some of the Agency Workers who have got in contact with Better than Zero:
Agency Workers at the Lighthouse, Glasgow
Staff at council-owned venue/centre work through an agency, some for more than 2 years. Initially told they would not be furloughed, but they came together and organised, and the agency agreed to furlough. However, they only furloughed them for average pay since Christmas, a quiet season, when the law entitles them to 80% of average pay over previous year. So they kept campaigning, and eventually won.
Agency staff at the Lighthouse have proved the power of precarious workers during this pandemic. When Covid-19 hit, neither Glasgow City Council nor the agencies they use would take responsibility for supporting Lighthouse staff, taking advantage of recurring temporary contracts to shirk their responsibility to furlough workers.
They attempted to divide workers with mixed messages, offered unsuitable 'volunteer' alternatives instead of furloughing, and at first refused to respond when workers took collective action to get their due.
But workers remained united, continued to present their challenge, and overcame the bad will of their bosses to open negotiations for a reasonable furlough agreement. In fighting for their due, they have shown how to act in a way that can be emulated by agency workers across Scotland.
'There was a blatant disregard and absence of communication for our situation from The Lighthouse management, Glasgow City Council and the agencies Brightwork and ASA that pay our wages. We have never felt we were valued or included in any talks about how we could sustain ourselves financially after the building closed. '
Agency Worker, from The Lighthouse, Glasgow
After a long battle, and a number of Collective letters addressed to their employers and agencies these workers were eventually placed on Furlough leave, proving that determination and collectivism is the way forward.
Workers across all industries are being exposed to precarious employment during the Covid-19 crisis, with many bosses showing their true colours and failing to support staff.
Agency workers are one group that are are really having to fight to survive. The law doesn’t offer agency workers the same protections as many other workers, and when the crisis hit, many temporary work assignments were cut or cancelled.
Communication Workers Union (CWU) assistant branch Secretary, and STUC Youth Committee member, John Carson, writes to celebrate the work of Postal Workers during this crisis, and to warn of the changes that are threatening the future of this great public service.
During this Covid-19 crisis, a great many of our Postal Workers have gone to many great lengths to serve their local communities: whether it is simply checking up on older and vulnerable residents, helping to deliver essential goods such as food and medicine, or playing a vital role in collecting the crucial Coronavirus test boxes: each act pays testimony to the great service that our Postal Workers provide; above and beyond their basic functions.
Every day, each member of our service takes their own share of risk to complete these duties and to serve the people of the United Kingdom. With concerns over PPE and social distancing still high on the agenda, it is only right, therefore, that here today we are all able to pay tribute to the men and women of the Postal service who are providing such vital services at this present time.
Already, the response of the general public has been absolutely overwhelming. Every message of support, every picture on a window, every wave from a doorstep is a massive boost and truly appreciated by all our members. It highlights more than ever the shared sense of solidarity and belonging that each of us enjoys in our communities, as well as highlighting the part we play in serving them. It is this social capital that is the true wealth and worth of the work Royal Mail does.
Sadly, not everything in the life of a postal worker is one of such happy and dedicated service. Since the privatisation of Royal Mail in 2013, many feel there has been a concerted effort by those in charge to undermine the service in order to prioritise financial profits. As a consequence, many workplace relations have become fraught, whilst morale in the company has plummeted due to a rigid managerial bureaucracy and top-level intransigence, which has replaced the virtues of collaboration and industrial progress. Only in December of last year it was announced that for the third time in two years, Royal Mail employees had voted to support strike action by huge margins – 94.5% approval on a 63.1% turnout – smashing the requirements of the 2016 anti-Trade Union legislation.
The following blog is written by Maria Feeney - Chair of STUC Youth Committee
As we mark this year’s International Worker’s Memorial Day(IWMD), we are reminded now more than ever the injustice faced by workers across the world whose workplaces lack the adequate health and safety standards in facing the COVID-19 crisis.
In the UK, more than 90 healthcare key workers have already sadly lost their lives in the last month due to COVID-19. This loss of life is even more appalling when healthcare workers have been crying out for necessary Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that could have prevented these deaths.
The Royal College of Physicians reported only yesterday that NHS staff’s lives are still at risk.
Although our efforts to draw rainbows on our windows and stand outside our doors to clap for keyworkers can be seen as an act of solidarity, in reality our efforts are merely futile.
History has proven time and time again that the only way to fight back against exploitative workplaces is through Trade Union activism.
Those on the frontline are facing preventable risks, and in order to show real solidarity, we must hold the Government and companies who are running key work to account and demand PPE and adequate health and safety for our key workers.
Last week staff at Pure Spa & Beauty, an Edinburgh-based company with chains across the UK, were told by the CEO Becky Woodhouse to accept zero hour contracts or resign. The workers at the Silverburn branch refused to accept the ultimatum. Here is their account of what happened.
We are the workers at PURE Spa & Beauty in Silverburn. Last week PURE’s chief executive Becky Woodhouse issued an ultimatum to all staff across the UK in light of the coronavirus crisis, demanding that we either sign a zero hour contract or resign. We were unwilling to accept this false choice: by resigning we would be losing our claim to redundancy payment, and by going onto zero-hours contracts we would lose our claim to our existing hours and pay. The government had clearly issued a statement saying they would release news of support for businesses, and that workers should not be laid off during this interim period. We came together to demand clarity and support from PURE. Instead of this, the company replied with repeated deadlines for signing the zero hours contract, all of which passed without consequence. Defeating this ultimatum gave us strength to stick to our collective position.
When the government announced 80% wage support, we wrote to PURE asking that we be allowed a choice between remaining on our existing contracts and receiving full pay, or be offered redundancy. We have seen many examples of companies in the UK keeping their staff on full pay with government support, and want PURE to do the same – one of our members has worked for 8 years at PURE and many of us have families to support.