Unemployment fears 'force down pay'

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The Independent Online
FEAR of the dole is forcing workers to accept 'dramatically' lower working conditions, according to the politically independent National Association of Citizen's Advice Bureaux.

Faced with the threat of dismissal, employees are accepting wage cuts of up to 35 per cent and working up to 70 hours a week for as little as pounds 140, the organisation says in its report, Job Insecurity.

Researchers found that employers were 'systematically' exploiting loopholes in employment law. Many local bureaux, funded by the Government and local authorities, reported that companies were routinely dismissing workers weeks or even days before they reached the deadline to qualify for job protection. Full-time employees have to wait for two years, part-time for five years.

One employee was dismissed after 23 months and three weeks for 'visiting the toilet too frequently'.

Ann Abraham, Bureaux chief executive, said inquiries on employment issues were growing at an 'alarming' rate. 'Clients are faced with the impossible choice of accepting cuts in already poor levels of pay or losing their jobs.'

The study found that job-related difficulties now made up the third-largest category of inquiries after debt and social security problems. The Bureaux, which received 856,855 inquiries on employment in 1991/92, registered particular concern that young people were vulnerable to forced changes in terms and conditions. Some companies were absolving themselves of responsibility by switching workers to self-employed status.

The 53-page report calls for changes to the Government's Trade Union Reform and Employment Rights Bill to entitle all employees to a written statement of job conditions.

Provisions in the proposed legislation for abolishing wages councils, which set statutory minimum wages for two million workers, should also be abandoned, the Bureaux believes.

Women and minority groups have been the biggest victims of the recession as employers downgrade equal opportunities, according to the Banking, Insurance and Finance Union.

The Midland Bank has halted expansion of its network of creches and other banks have failed to develop coherent childcare policies, the union said. Mrs Edwina Hart, president of the union, said banks were paying lip-service to Opportunity 2000, the campaign which seeks to secure representation of women at all levels of organisations.

Job Insecurity, National Association of Citizen's Advice Bureaux, 115-123 Pentonville Road, London N1 9LZ.