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Home > BUSINESS > ‘It’s a seller’s market for workers’: how Covid and Brexit have shaken jobs in the UK | Unions

‘It’s a seller’s market for workers’: how Covid and Brexit have shaken jobs in the UK | Unions

For employers struggling to find staff, Britain’s worst labor shortage in decades is seen as jeopardizing the economic recovery from lockdown. For workers, it comes as a moment of opportunity.

“For the first time in a generation, it’s a sales market for workers,” said Andy Prendergast, a national secretary at GMB. The union organizer, who represents drivers and couriers in the logistics sector, said there was a rush of activities among members pushing for better pay and terms.

With the UK estimated to be short of 100,000 truck drivers, amid an online shopping boom, hauliers have entered into a bidding war offering recruitment bonuses of up to £ 1,000 and higher salaries.

“Most employers see staff leaking out the door and there is a huge risk that the herring will become a flood if no action is taken,” Prendergast said. “Our message to employers is that you have to look at this now, you can not wait for the next wage round in April. There is a real fear that you have no staff left. ”

Not all employers listen. Industrial disputes are emerging across various sectors despite the shortage, including at Yodel, where more than 250 drivers – delivering to Marks & Spencer, Aldi, Very and others – have voted to go beyond pay and terms.

There have been similar disputes at Booker, part of the Tesco empire that manages deliveries to Budgen’s and London’s grocery stores and Hanson Cement. Ocado is on strike after the observer revealed that some employees working for Ocado Zoom’s fast delivery service were being paid prices below £ 5 an hour.

Low salary

After decades of decline, union members in the UK rose for the fourth year in a row in 2020, rising by almost 120,000 as employees sought protection from risks at Covid-19 and layoffs.

Now on the other side of the lockdown, where companies are sounding the alarm over job shortages, the role of unions is shifting from saving jobs to increasing wages and conditions.

Kate Bell, head of employment rights at TUC, said: “The pandemic has certainly changed the role of the trade union, whether it is health and safety, access to sickness benefits and now decent terms and conditions. Some of the recognition of the course scheme is that unions were heavily involved and really showed why you need collective action. ”

A report by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on Thursday showed that the lack of EU applicants contributed to challenges in staff to reopen the economy, especially in transport and storage, as the fallout from Covid collided with Brexit.

Faced with severe shortages, business leaders are urging the government to expand the visa system to allow employers to hire more staff from abroad, saying this is the only short-term solution to chronic labor shortages.

In the long run, managers recognize that more investment in training for the home workforce is crucial; yet they are less confident in talking about wages, and warn that larger wage bills will provoke inflation and hit consumers in the pocket.

“Companies have been very happy to apply capitalism to top executives. When they can not hire a rate, they raise it, but then they refuse to do it for manual staff and cleaning assistants, so we have to organize, ”said Prendergast.

Companies across all industries told ONS that lack of suitable applicants was the main reason they were unable to fill vacancies at the end of August 2021, with transport and storage companies most likely to complain about shortages on workers in the EU.

Among all companies experiencing recruitment challenges, one in four said a reduced number of EU applicants was a factor. This increased to almost every other (46%) transport and storage company, the highest in any sector.

Vacancies have increased by more than DKK 1 million. For the first time, the highest level ever according to official figures this week. However, average wages are still below the peak of the financial crisis before 2008, more than 13 years later, after the worst decade of earnings growth since the Napoleonic Wars.

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Alex Marshall, chairman of the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain, said: “There is no shortage of labor, there is a shortage of wages. There are people to perform these jobs if the money offered is right for them to sacrifice to perform these jobs. ”

Official figures show that inflation-adjusted wages, including bonuses, were £ 521 a week in July, £ 1 below the February 2008 level, amid a reluctance among employers to pay higher wages and the impact of rising living costs.

Bell said union workers were pushing for higher wages after a decade of weak earnings growth. The TUC estimates that if wages had risen by the historical trend seen before the financial crisis, workers would have been on average £ 5,900 better off.

“Workers have the right to ask for higher wage increases. It is still a long way back where it should be, ”she said.

The government’s “national wage” has helped the lowest paid workers. However, the conservative promises made in 2015 to raise the legal floor to £ 9 per hour by 2020 have not been met and at £ 8.91 per hour it remains below the level that the campaigns say is required to protect workers from falling into poverty.

With terms and conditions steadily downward over the years, loyalty to employers was not high at the beginning of Britain’s labor shortages, Prendergast said.

“People have been exploited for years and now they say, ‘This is my time.'”

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