Employment laws encompass everything from detailed employment contracts to a wide range of statutory rights, including equal pay, participation in trade union activities, and flexible working arrangements. All of this means that workers’ rights are human rights and should be prioritised as such. Every employee has the right to safety, health, and happiness in the workplace.
Creating an environment with rules that protect these rights doesn’t only benefit employees, but also employers. Access to healthcare is one case in point, as here on the Organisation for Responsible Businesses we noted how it improves retention. Plus, it’s no secret that employees who become ill often are detrimental to the productivity of the company. Negative effects like this can be avoided if the company provides benefits such as private healthcare, and implements proper regulations, such as reasonable working hours.
Businesses are also liable for the safety of their employees. Ensuring that the working environment is humane and hazard-free will protect both parties. It minimises the risk of accidents and potential issues with legalities.
Companies must tackle the challenges
Of course, there are still factors that impede the rights of British workers. For starters, the regulations may be inclusive, but that doesn’t mean that every firm complies and ensures inclusivity as well. For example, the BBC shed light on continuing equal pay issues, as many companies still fail to report on pay discrepancies between their male and female employees as mandated by law. The lack of transparency, or even the mere hesitancy to be transparent, is clearly a sign that closing the gender pay gap is far from a top priority. Needless to say, the gender pay gap exacerbates inequalities experienced by minorities, especially women.
This doesn’t even take into consideration the minimum wage set by the Low Pay Commission, which doesn’t factor in basic costs of living in different areas. London is still the most expensive city in the UK, where the percentage of wages spent on rent comes in at an average 37.08%. This figure is more than double than in other cities like Liverpool, where only 14.6% is allocated for rent. Although the minimum wage is a national standard, some companies are beginning to acknowledge the fact that cost of living is not uniform across the country. For instance, Aldi’s UK stores recently increased their hourly wages from £8.85 to £9.10 for store assistants outside of London, and £10.20 to £10.55 for those who work in London branches. Amazon has also made a similar move for its UK employees last year. Being huge multi-national corporations, Aldi and Amazon can set an example to other companies to ensure that compensation is not only fair, but is enough to cover their actual expenses based on their location. If raising the minimum wage isn’t a viable option for smaller companies, they can then look at providing travel and food allowances to help cut the expenses of their employees and make wages more equitable for all.
Another labour issue affecting workers’ rights is the rise of automation and robotics, which are also seeing huge adoption rates across a number of industries, like manufacturing and fintech. One example is the use of robots that can perform repetitive tasks at a much faster pace, like sewing garments. In fintech, advanced technologies can easily detect fraudulent activities and prevent them from happening. Both cases, however, present inherent risks like data security and threaten the displacement of skilled workers, but the government has actually taken steps to address this concern. Gizmodo reported on the five principles proposed by the House of Lords Artificial Intelligence committee:
(1) AI should be developed for the common good
(2) It should be intelligible and fair
(3) It should not threaten the privacy of individuals, families, or communities
(4) Citizens must be educated on AI
(5) And AI should not be used to hurt, destroy or deceive humans
Additionally, it’s also important to note that the World Economic Forum estimates that only 20% of jobs in the UK will be displaced by ‘AI and related technologies’. The report also explains that these advancements will create more jobs — around the same number as the jobs lost — because of the economic boost they are predicted to cause. The ideal scenario, of course, will be that humans work side by side with machines. The challenge for the government and businesses then is to reinvest the resources that they save from automation into retraining workers for different avenues of work. This not only contributes to the sustainability of organisations, but also encourages their employees to continue learning and growing in their careers.
Lastly, the recent developments surrounding Brexit have not been exactly reassuring. Theresa May’s plan has been heavily criticised because it fails to guarantee key elements in UK employment rights, like paid holidays. In fact, European law expert Aidan O’Neill QC pointed out that given the current plan, the EU’s charter of fundamental rights will no longer apply to UK employees. FXCM’s economic calendar shows high volatility around the UK parliamentary vote on Brexit, which means there is a threat of hard Brexit that will lead to a complete severance with EU regulations. Ill-intentioned companies might take advantage of the vulnerability of the current state of employment, and use this as an opportunity to lower employment standards for profit.
All in all, the conditions that low wages, automation, and Brexit create can be very intimidating for employers and employees alike. Workers in the UK are not getting the job assurance that they need or deserve. However, with proper insight and good leadership, employers can ensure that their employees’ rights remain protected, with promises of better wages or benefits and opportunities to upskill their employees — even if the current political climate is out of their control.