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Public Pandemic Inquiry Workers in insecure jobs twice as likely to die during pandemic

Those with limited rights and no sick days faced ‘fatal consequences’

THE TUC challenged Westminster’s Covid-19 inquiry yesterday to ask why people in insecure work were twice as likely to die during the pandemic as people in more stable employment.  

In a new report the union body accuses the government of allowing insecure work to grow unchecked, pushing half a million workers out of stable work in the decade before the pandemic despite pledges to improve workers’ rights.

The TUC says workers suffered “devastating consequences” and is calling for the public inquiry into the government’s handling of the pandemic to investigate how millions of low-paid and front-line workers were left at greater risk than others.

The TUC report found that while the mortality rate for male workers in more secure jobs was 24 per 100,000, that rose to 51 for insecure workers. And the death rate for women workers in more secure jobs was 13 per 100,000, but 25 for those in precarious work.

The worst risks were faced by the lowest-paid and BME workers — the latter being more heavily employed in jobs with a higher risk of exposure and in precarious work.

The TUC report said that at-risk workers also faced a “triple whammy” of difficulties — lack of sick pay, fewer rights at work and endemic low pay.

Workers in insecure jobs include agency, casual and seasonal workers, self-employed workers paid less than 66 per cent of median earnings and workers on zero-hours contracts.

“Insecure workers are markedly less likely to benefit from the full range of employment rights that permanent, more secure workers are entitled to, including vital safeguards such as unfair dismissal and redundancy protections,” said the TUC.

“Sectors such as care, leisure, and the elementary occupations have high rates of insecure work — compared to managerial, professional and admin sectors which have some of the lowest.

“Those in insecure occupations largely continued to work outside the home during the pandemic — and many were key workers.

“A government study suggested that agency workers at care homes — often employed on zero-hours contracts — unwittingly spread the infection as the pandemic grew.”

TUC general secretary Paul Nowak said: “The Covid public inquiry must look at how the unchecked growth of insecure work left millions vulnerable to the pandemic.

“Ministers let insecure work flourish on their watch — instead of clamping down on the worst employment practices.

“That failure had devastating — and even fatal — consequences for workers.

“Lots of them were the key workers we all applauded — like care workers, delivery drivers and coronavirus testing staff.

“For years ministers promised working people improved rights and protections. But they repeatedly failed to deliver.

“It’s time for the government to learn the lessons of the pandemic and stamp out the scourge of insecure work for good.”

Independent Workers of Great Britain (IWGB) general secretary Henry Chango Lopez, who represents many insecure workers in the gig economy, said: “Many of our members were forced to work throughout the pandemic — whether they were agency cleaners in hospitals sanitising Covid wards, or food couriers risking their lives to deliver groceries to the vulnerable.

“They were key workers, keeping society running, yet they weren’t afforded sick pay, furlough, and in many were not even guaranteed minimum wage.

“The government must not just face its terrible handling of the pandemic but must come face to face with the millions of workers’ whose lives have been devalued due to corporate greed.”

Ian Morrison, a Deliveroo and UberEats worker who worked throughout the pandemic, said: “Riding through empty streets, delivering food to so many different people every day, putting myself at risk of infection while everyone else stayed home — I’m not surprised by these new findings.

“We didn’t have sick pay, and our pay had reached all-time lows so we were forced to be out on the road seven days a week, 14-16 hours a day.

“I caught Covid during the beginning of the pandemic, which meant not only did I have to deal with the pain and sickness, but I had to forfeit two weeks wages.”

The inquiry starts tomorrow.

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