Union leaders reveal wide-scale exploitation of low-paid agency workers
BOSSES are using employment agencies as an “underground economy” of exploitation, MPs heard in Parliament yesterday.
Union leaders told MPs of the exploitative practices sweeping through workplaces including zero-hours contracts and low-paid agency staff being used to cut costs.
Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner estimated that 1.6 million agency staff work in an “underground economy.”
He detailed how the modern workforce is rapidly changing to the point where “an algorithm on a computer” tells workers they are not productive enough “so you’re not getting any work.”
Mr Turner told the Commons business committee how smartphones are being used to exploit workers as companies send out messages saying the first 50 to respond will get work.
And he insisted that the decision to use employment agencies was “a business model of choice to reduce costs” and increase exploitation of workers.
Companies are using agency work as a “job replacement” exercise with staff on zero-hours contracts and inferior terms and conditions including £5-an-hour less than other workers, he explained.
The committee also heard that recruitment agency Transline were refusing to pay £1 million in back pay to agency workers who were not paid the minimum wage at Sports Direct’s notorious Shirebrook warehouse.
Transline claims that it is not responsible for the payment as it predated their involvement with the disgraced retailer.
GMB general secretary Tim Roache poured scorn on the testimony of Transline spokeswoman Jennifer Hardy’s claim that clothes retailer Asos was an example of a good warehouse.
He detailed how GMB had campaigned for over two years at the warehouse gates but were repeatedly denied access to the workforce.
“They made a deal with another union,” he told the committee, referring to a recognition agreement signed between Asos and Community earlier this year.
“This union is not the choice of the workers.”
Mr Roache explained how Asos still refuse GMB on site, going as far as to hold grievance and disciplinary hearings in hotels rather than allow the union into the warehouse.
He said that agency work casts a “dark shadow” over employment practices with very flexible employment for bosses and “utterly inflexible” employment for workers.