Sunday, 24 April 2016

Disgusted at the treatment of a disabled shop worker...

I've been supporting a disabled woman who is part time and supposedly works a 24hr week.  Her colleague is also part time.

Part time.  But both have been working over 70 hours per week !

So how does that work?

Well, two colleagues have become ex-colleagues, creating a staff shortage.   Have regional management moved quickly to move new staff in?  No. Have management temporarily transferred staff in from nearby branches? No.

What they have done is force these two workers to almost treble the weekly hours they work.  It's been going on for a month now, and the workers believe that management couldn't care less.

Both are exhausted, and our disabled member is in serious discomfort.  Health will deteriorate considerably if this goes on much longer.

Not only are the hours excessive and forced, they are unlawful.  The shop shuts late and opens early. The two workers are expected to open and close the shop.  There is not nearly enough time to have 11 hours rest or more between shifts, This is a clear breach of the Working Time Regulations.

But most workplace rights aren't worth a bean unless there's a union there to enforce them. Like most private sector workplaces, there is no union recognition. This employer is abusing it's staff because it can.  It is easier for management to take advantage of workers rather than fix the problem.  Doing the management work of fixing the problem would be more profitable in the long run.  Is this what politicians call "private sector efficiency"?

The worker with disabilities has now written to management, giving them seven days notice of her intention to revert to her contractual hours, and politely making clear that her health could not permit her to continue working excessive hours for any longer.

Managements response has knocked the stuffing out of her:

"In order to satisfy your working hours request, it is necessary for us to change your location.  From next Monday you will be based at our **** store,".   The new work location is several miles away, and bus routes are not good.  This will add least an hour to the working day for this disabled worker. Shifts are also likely to change, so the extent to extra travel is not known but is certainly a huge source of anxiety.

I've checked the contract of employment, and yes, management can do this at any time to "meet the needs of the business",

Yes there's a grievance procedure...yes there's some stuff that can be done, but no there is no chance of this getting resolved anytime soon.

This sort of routine mistreatment of workers....not to mention blatant flouting of the working time regs,could so easily be stamped out if there was a union rep in every workplace.

It's certainly a step forward that since 1999 there have been laws to win union recognition..   But the hoops workers have to go through to achieve it are impossibly difficult for most private sector workers.  Within retail, hospitality and cleaning sectors, so many contracts are zero hour or temporary that any effort to organise is extremely difficult.

Our weak employment laws give some workers some redress in some situations. But if we ensured collective representation in every organisation, most issues could be prevented before they occurred. It's so frustrating. When Unions help members in non-organised workplaces, many of the issues are things that wouldn't have happened in the first place if there was union-recognition and an onsite Rep.

It is a basic human right that workers have a voice and are able to express a collective opinion at work.  It's shameful that UK employment law makes this so difficult to achieve in most circumstances.  Unions of workers who are organised simply don't have the resources to organise those who are not.

People shouldn't have to take risks to secure basic human rights. And if there's an argument against that, I'd like to hear it.