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Cllr Elaine Taylor Published: Tuesday, 12th July 2022

Oldham Council to debate workers’ rights at Wednesday’s full council meeting.

The pandemic, a decade of austerity, Brexit and the cost-of-living crisis have all exposed deep financial inequalities in Oldham.

According to the Department for Work and Pensions, one in three children in our borough are currently living in poverty.

While Oldham Council has made great strides in offering its support where possible, through actions such as becoming an accredited living wage council in 2013 and, more recently, ensuring all care workers employed in care homes, home services and supported housing schemes are paid the living wage – the borough continues to face more and more complex challenges.

This includes the rise of zero hours contracts and ‘fire and rehire’, where employers are forcing workers to reapply for jobs with lower pay and conditions.

That is why Councillor Elaine Taylor, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Culture and Leisure, will be calling for the Government to protect working conditions, to put an end to ‘fire and rehire’, and to demand that key workers receive a pay rise that matches inflation. 

“The incredible challenges of the last couple of years have been felt by thousands of workers and families in Oldham, and the rest of the UK. Many have struggled to keep their heads above water.

“Even before the pandemic, one in nine workers were already in insecure employment like zero-hour contracts, working as agency workers, or in bogus self-employment. These workers did not have protected employment rights and could have been dismissed at will, yet many of them are the people who worked on the front line, caring for our most vulnerable residents, keeping our essential services running and putting food on shop shelves.”

The Living Wage Foundation estimates that over a million key workers are in insecure work, lacking basic rights and protections, and that 3.8 million people are in insecure work across the economy.

Workers on zero-hours contracts are more likely to be young, women, part-time staff or those in full-time education. In the UK, three quarters of the workers on zero-hour contracts lost shifts during the pandemic, with a disproportionate number of those being black and minority ethnic (BME) workers.

Many workers have also experienced real term pay decreases as wages have remained the same year on year, with people in the North West experiencing some of the highest levels of low pay, and in-work poverty.

Councillor Taylor added: “How can we be clapping for people one minute and the next ensuring that those same workers are kept in poverty?

“Aside from the fact that it’s wrong, staff who are paid well and feel valued, often stay longer with their employer. That’s why I’m encouraging Oldham employers to support the Greater Manchester Good Employment Charter to improve employment standards across the borough.

“I’m also proposing working with our anchor institutions, key partners and recognised trade unions, to bring forward plans to ensure all Oldham businesses have best practice employment standards.”

According to TUC research (January 2021), one in 10 workers have experienced ‘fire and rehire’ and have been told to reapply for their jobs on worse pay and terms and conditions or face the sack – with BME workers facing this at twice the rate of white workers.

Furthermore, a quarter of all workers have experienced a worsening of their terms and conditions – including a cut in their pay – since the pandemic began.

On the subject of fire and rehire, the Deputy Leader said: “I’m going to be asking the Chief Executive to write to the Government demanding an end to this dreadful practice while also insisting on an inflationary pay rise for all key workers, and a strengthening of workers’ rights.”

The full council meeting will confirm the council’s resolve not to use fire and rehire as an employer and to ensure the council’s procurement practices certify that we use contractors with good employment, equality, and environmental records.

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