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Two years from the first lockdown and low-paid key workers are still waiting for the Government to ‘build back better’ says Usdaw

Date: 22 March 2022 Shopworkers’ trade union leader Paddy Lillis is today reflecting on lost opportunities to ‘build back better’ as we reach the second anniversary of the first Covid-19 lockdown. With the country now being ushered into the ‘living with Covid’ era, it’s perhaps a good time to reflect on one of the most tumultuous periods in living history.
Paddy Lillis – Usdaw General Secretary says: “The pandemic was a life-changing event for everybody and impacted our lives in ways that we couldn’t possibly have imagined. The vast majority of Usdaw members were suddenly recognised as key workers delivering essential services and while their contribution was appreciated with claps on a Thursday night, claps do not pay the bills.
“The Prime Minister boldly promised to ‘build back better’, but that is fast looking like one of his famous three-word catchphrases that don’t actually mean anything in reality. Tomorrow is the Spring Statement, where the Chancellor could put those words into action, but we are not confident he will.
“The Covid-19 response clearly demonstrated just how reliant our country is on low-paid workers who continued throughout to deliver essential services. Their reward is to come out of the pandemic to face a cost of living crisis, with prices rocketing and real wages falling.
“The response from the trade union movement was to launch a ‘New Deal for Workers’ campaign, which we had hoped the Government would grab hold of to deliver on their ‘build back better’ rhetoric. They had promised a post-Brexit employment bill, which could have been an opportunity to significantly improve the pay and rights of our lowest paid, but there is regrettably still no sign of it.
“Far too many workers are stuck in low-paid and insecure jobs. If the Government had followed through on their promises, we would now have a minimum wage for all workers of at least £10 per hour, an end to exploitation of workers with short-hours and zero-hours contracts and social security that provides a proper safety net, not the widely discredited Universal Credit system.
“The need for workers to be properly supported when forced to take sickness absence was writ large through the pandemic and became a key way of combatting the virus. Yet nobody can live on Statutory Sick Pay of just £96.35 per week. Trade unions secured SSP from day one for Covid absences during the pandemic, which is now being withdrawn. This must be reinstated and applied to all sickness absences, along with sick pay reflecting average pay and being available to all workers.
“Despite their new key worker status, unbelievably abuse of shopworkers doubled at the beginning of the pandemic, as customers disgracefully took out their frustrations on staff. This phenomenon galvanised an already growing coalition of employers who backed Usdaw’s campaign for protection of shopworkers legislation. That resulted in new laws being passed in Holyrood and Westminster after years of government opposition. Our respect for shopworkers campaigning continues.

“Job security remains a big issue as ever more employers resort to the unfair ‘fire and rehire’ practice to attack terms and conditions of employment. Usdaw has challenged this in the courts and through industrial action. However, we need urgent Government action to force employers to do the right thing on job security, redundancy, equal pay and day one protection from unfair dismissal.
“It’s been a really tough two years and lessons must be learnt, but I fear the Government is slipping back to business as usual. It is simply not good enough that the people we rely on most to keep our communities safe and healthy do receive the dignity and respect they deserve through decent pay and secure employment. It is time for a new deal for workers.”
Usdaw’s New Deal for Workers calls for:
  • A minimum wage of at least £10 per hour for all workers immediately, ending rip-off youth rates and providing a living wage.
  • Minimum contract of 16 hours per week, for everyone who wants it, that reflects normal hours worked and a ban on zero-hour contracts.
  • Better sick pay for all workers, from day one, at average earnings.
  • Protection at work – respect for shopworkers, abuse is not a part of the job.
  • A proper social security system, Universal Credit does not provide a safety net.
  • Job security, with day one employment rights for unfair dismissal and redundancy.
  • Fair treatment and equality for all workers, including equal pay.
  • A voice at work, stop rogue employers refusing to engage with trade unions and end ‘fire and rehire’. 
Notes for editors:
Usdaw (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers) is the UK's fifth biggest trade union with around 360,000 members. Most Usdaw members work in the retail sector, but the union also has many members in transport, distribution, food manufacturing, chemical industry and other trades.
For Usdaw press releases visit: http://www.usdaw.org.uk/news and you can follow us on Twitter @UsdawUnion

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