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From: The Socialist issue 1069, 15 January 2020: Low Pay, Long Hours. Bosses rip us off. Organise the fightback now!

Search site for keywords: Minimum wage - US - Pay - Low pay - Workers - Union - TUC - Trade union - Wages - Usdaw - Big business - living wage

Low Pay, Long Hours. Bosses rip us off. Organise the fightback now!

Tesco Dagenham distribution centre; One-day Usdaw strike over pay. , photo Richard Groves

Tesco Dagenham distribution centre; One-day Usdaw strike over pay. , photo Richard Groves   (Click to enlarge)

Ryan Aldred, secretary, Usdaw union Plymouth and District General Branch (personal capacity)

Boris Johnson has announced the minimum wage is going up. It's not by nearly enough. And at the same time, the Tories let bosses get away with paying hundreds of thousands of workers below the legal minimum!

Scandalously, nearly one in four workers on the misnamed National 'Living Wage' is underpaid, according to a report by the state's Low Pay Commission. To make matters worse, the figures show a year-on-year increase.

305,000 workers lost out in 2016; 339,000 were underpaid in 2017; and 369,000 were swindled in 2018. Retail, hospitality, cleaning, maintenance and childcare are the worst culprits.

The official figures - damning in their own right - only tell a partial tale. What they don't reflect is the something-for-nothing culture that bosses have come to expect.

Workers are pressured - and often outright bullied, particularly in zero-hour workplaces - into working unpaid overtime, as bosses squeeze every last ounce of profit out of us.

Working through breaks, starting work early to 'get ahead', or staying behind to 'finish up' - all while being off the clock - are illegal. Yet they're commonplace in many industries.

Moreover, in a bid to cut costs, many employers are laying off (or not replacing) staff - while expecting the remaining workforce to pick up the slack by working harder!

It is clear that this government of big business, intent on scrapping workers' rights, cannot be relied upon even to uphold its own laws on these matters. Some employers even create jobs to gain government tax incentives, then keep those workers in poverty with zero and low-hour contracts.

However, it doesn't have to be this way! By joining a union and getting organised in the workplace we can force the bosses back.

Frances O'Grady, general secretary of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), falls far short when she simply says more investment is needed to identify lawbreaking employers. The TUC could take a lead from French workers, and boost workers' confidence with a call to action on low pay and a national demonstration.

Underpaying workers is nothing short of theft. By getting organised in the workplace we can collectively enforce our rights and show the bosses we will not tolerate this injustice.

By having the confidence to make demands, backed by preparedness to demonstrate and strike for better conditions, we can make it clear to the bosses that it's only decent wages, not poverty pay, that will do!

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