Monthly Archives: September 2016

Abuses of migrant workers


In 2015, the Irish government announced a new work permit scheme to regularise undocumented fishermenfrom outside the EEA working on Irish-owned vessels. The initiative was launched after a Guardian investigation highlighted alleged abuses.

Early last year, 500 one-year permits were made available to owners who were required to pay the statutory minimum wage to migrant workers and provide them with a solicitor-backed contract. Francis O’Donnell, chief executive of the Irish Fish Producers’ Organisation, said at the time that 1,000 work permits would be needed “to get everybody covered”. According to a spokesperson from Ireland’s Department of Justice and Equality, just 182 permits have been granted to date. O’Donnell said he was not aware of boats breaking the regulations but any that did so acted without the support of his organisation.

MRCI’s O’Toole said: “The scheme is facilitating the use of cheap labour and we are extremely concerned about the lack of enforcement by Irish authorities.”

On Monday, 68 migrant fishermen attended a meeting in Dublin organised by the International Transport Workers’ Federation. Only one person said he had a valid work permit and some of the workers, who were mainly from Egypt, alleged a range of employment abuses including low pay, threats of deportation and continuous “24-hour” working with only 30 minutes’ rest in that period. One undocumented Egyptian said that last year he worked 150 hours a week on a trawler but was not paid properly. “We are slaves working,” he said.

Solve the self employed status

Pimlico Plumbers has lost a court battle over the status of its workers, in the latest legal ruling on employment status in the gig economy.

It came as the government released a report warning that “unscrupulous” employers were in a position to exploit low-paid and low-skilled workers.

Plumber Gary Smith, who worked for Pimlico Plumbers for six years until 2011, had already won an employment tribunal challenging the firm’s view that he was self-employed.

The court of appeal rejected an appeal lodged by Pimlico Plumbers, founded by the Conservative party donor Charlie Mullins.

The firm argued Smith was an “independent contractor” rather than a worker or employee.

Smith’s solicitor, Jacqueline McGuigan, said the ruling held wider implications for gig economy firms such as Deliveroo or Uber, both of which are embroiled in rows over employment status.

“We are absolutely delighted,” McGuigan said. “The decision brings welcome clarity to the issue of employment status relating to work in parts of the economy.”

Speaking outside court, Mullins said: “I am happy. This gives some clarity. We will be looking at the full judgment and there is a good chance we will appeal to the supreme court.”


We have the laws for a fairer gig economy, we just need to enforce them

The UK’s department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said: “We are determined to make sure our employment rules keep up to date to reflect new ways of working, and that’s why the government asked Matthew Taylor to conduct an independent review into modern working practices.”

But BEIS immediately came under fire from the Green party for failing to publish a report that warned in December 2015 that gig economy workers were at risk of exploitation.

A string of labour disputes have since arisen as staff from firms such as Uber, Deliveroo and CitySprint have fought to have their status upgraded to that of workers or employees.

The report, commissioned by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, warned that a lack of clarity over workers’ status was allowing “unscrupulous” employers to take advantage of workers.

It explored possibilities including “flipping” the burden of proof in labour disputes, so that employment tribunals would consider complainants to be full employees unless a different relationship could be established.

“Some of the more unscrupulous employers will also have to start to take notice if a significant proportion of their workforce stand up for what is rightfully theirs as a result,” it said.

The Green party said the government’s failure to publish the report since it was completed in December 2015 had increased uncertainty for gig economy workers and forced them to take the risk of going to tribunal.

Fall in employment tribunal cases on fees

The number of cases taken to employment tribunals has fallen by 70% since fees were introduced, a government review has found.

Unions called for the fees of up to £950 to be scrapped, saying the slump in claims mostly affected low-paid women.

The review said the introduction of fees had dramatically changed how workplace disputes were resolved, with a significant increase in the number of people turning to the conciliation service Acas.

The number of multiple claims taken to employment tribunals fell from 5,847 before fees were introduced to 1,740 in the year afterwards (2014-15) – a reduction of 70%. The number of single cases fell by a similar percentage.

Unison said the fees were ill-judged, had failed to save taxpayers’ money and prevented thousands of badly treated workers from getting justice.

Its general secretary, Dave Prentis, said: “The introduction of fees was a terrible decision. The lord chancellor should be big enough now to accept her department got this one badly wrong.

“Tribunal fees should be scrapped immediately before any more law-breaking employers escape punishment because wronged workers simply don’t have the cash to take them to court.”

Announcing plans to expand a scheme under which fees are waived for the lowest paid, the justice minister Sir Oliver Heald said: “It is right that those who can afford to should contribute to the cost of employment tribunals.

“Under our reforms, record numbers are bringing forward disputes in tribunals or through the Acas conciliation service. Costs should not prevent anyone bringing claims, so we are extending our Help with Fees scheme and will introduce a green paper on further legal support measures.”

Heald said it was hardly surprising that charging for something that was previously free would reduce demand. Users were contributing between £8.5m and £9m a year, in line with what was expected, he said.

But the review said the fall in claims had been much greater than originally estimated, adding: “In many cases, we consider this to be a positive outcome. More people have referred their disputes to Acas’s conciliation service.

“Nevertheless, there is also some evidence that some people who have been unable to resolve their disputes through conciliation have been discouraged from bringing a formal employment tribunal claim because of the requirement to pay a fee. The government has decided to take action to address these concerns.”

Len McCluskey, the leader of Unite, said: “The government is dealing in alternative facts to claim that both the fall in employment tribunal applications is greater than they anticipated and that people are not losing out.

“The actual facts are that when working people are priced out of justice, and it is made exceptionally difficult for their unions to pursue it on their behalf, then the only winners are bad employers.”

The general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union, Mark Serwotka, said: “This review, slipped out while MPs are debating Brexit, shows a government not only content with closing off justice for workers but also celebrating a fall in discrimination claims as ‘broadly positive’.”