Precarious Workers & COVID-19: here’s what we can still do
As workers who face a loss of pay due to COVID-19 here’s what we can still do
The collateral of COVID-19 falls heavy on workers. Employers are scaling down hours and operations and the government is urging people to work from home. But those who can’t work from home need an income, irrespective of the need to self-isolate. How can we get it?
This is becoming an unavoidable catastrophe for low-waged workers. Pubs and restaurants are grinding to a standstill. Hairdressing salons and high street stores are shutting shop.
We recently published the first of a series of advice on what to do if you are a precarious worker affected by the coronavirus.
The advice there was to speak to your colleagues, meet together, form your demand for decent sick pay, and take it to your boss with a plan of action if they refuse.
But things are moving fast, businesses are already closing their doors, and it may soon be impossible to meet your colleagues face-to-face and take action at work. So what now?
Above all, unity
As the virus spreads, bosses are using zero-hours contracts with a vengeance. Offering zero hours and zero shifts amount to forcing staff to take unpaid leave and live for nothing.
Last week, 20 workers at a restaurant in Glasgow City Centre had their hours suddenly cut to zero with no clarity on their job status or whether they would get the money for the work they had already done.
The company refused to answer worried workers’ emails with questions, limiting their ability to access financial support. We then reached out to the employer on behalf of the workers seeking clarification, but we are yet to receive a response.
The first workers to seek clarity were offered their jobs back, but they declined.
Why? Because the offer was not extended to all. The workers are challenging the company collectively to ensure they get the maximum payment they are due.
Call it mutual aid or mutual protection or solidarity, this is what it means to be in a union. Once you are combined in a union, it is easier to join up with the others who are facing the same. Approach it together with a plan, and we will get more than we would ever get alone.
Five tricks in your arsenal
Even if you have to sign on, it is not time to give up on getting the payment you are due. This is an unusual time and a time for trying out tactics that give you power remotely against the company you work for. Here’s a few to try:
Keep in contact
It makes sense to keep linked up with the people you work(ed) with, so that you can keep each other abreast of anything that one of you hears. Some bosses will try to divide the staff and set one rule for some and another for the others, and sometimes those who get most will be those who need it least. It is worth sharing what you know, and making sure that you all keep each other on the same page. This is a time for unity.
Form into a union
Over the next few weeks, a lot of workers in similar situations to yours will be combining online and talking together to work out what can be done - both now, and when you go back to work. It is worth your while to be involved in these discussions. You can do this by joining a union (for as little as 55p per week) or keeping in the loop with BetterThanZero. We have our ear to the ground about the mutual aid and solidarity groups forming across Scotland.
Pinch the profits
If your employer is saying that it cannot afford to pay you, consider their reasons. One clear motive is to protect profits. If you work for a big company, or one that you have seen ringing in the cash, then it is worth pushing your demands for payment, It’s actually very easy to find out how much profit companies make. We can help you conduct a little inquiry by working out the profits from Companies House. Let us know if you think there is story to tell about why the company is not paying. Then stake your claim for a share of those profits.
Open the books
Certain companies and businesses will not be able to afford to pay workers without going bankrupt. Bankrupt owners may have savings, and if not they would have to sign on to social security, just like everyone else. But if your employer insists that they genuinely cannot afford to pay you sick leave, ask to see the books so that you can trust their word. Don’t stop demanding until you know there’s no money to pay you. As long as there is, you deserve it.
Use social security
Campaigners are building demands for a better sick pay system. COVID-19 has exposed the reality of social security and the rights associated with casualised and precarious contracts.
At £94.25 per week, Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) is cruelly low, and thousands of workers who are deemed self-employed or who work in low-hour contracts are not entitled to it at all.
Instead, these workers are told to access Universal Credit. This pays less than £63 per week for those aged under 25. Harsh requirements and delayed payments are part of the system.
Blemish the brand
Chances are, you know the company you work for and you know that it rides on its reputation. If your employer is not being frank, or is not giving you what it can afford, then there is nothing to stop you collectively decided to turn some online fire against it. Let’s build up a picture of the employers that are, and are not, paying what they can and should. If you want to see it branded but don’t want to take the risk of public exposure, let us know.