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Covid mortality rates twice as high in ‘insecure jobs’

Written by: Emma Lunn
The Trades Union Congress (TUC) says insecure workers face ‘triple whammy’ of a lack of sick pay, fewer rights and low pay, while being more at risk of catching coronavirus.

By ‘insecure jobs’, the TUC is referring to workers on contracts that don’t guarantee regular hours or income (including zero-hours contracts, agency work and casual work), or in low-paid self-employment where they earn less than the National Living Wage.

According to the TUC, insecure workers are almost 10 times more likely to say they receive no sick pay at all compared to secure workers.

Analysis by the union shows that Covid-19 mortality rates during the pandemic are twice as high in insecure jobs than in other professions.

The Covid-19 male mortality rate in insecure occupations was 51 per 100,000 people aged 20 to 64, compared to 24 per 100,000 people in less insecure occupations. The Covid-19 female mortality rate in insecure occupations was 25 per 100,000 people, compared to 13 per 100,000 in less insecure occupations.

The union body has called the figures ‘stark’ and says that more research is needed to understand the links between precarious work and risk of infection and death.

The TUC points out that those in insecure occupations have largely continued to work outside the home during the pandemic, and that many key workers are in insecure employment. Insecure workers account for one in nine workers – with women, disabled workers and BME workers more likely to be in precarious work.

According to the TUC’s analysis, sectors such as care, leisure, and the elementary occupations have high rates of insecure work, compared to managerial, professional and admin sectors which have some of the lowest.

Sick pay failing insecure workers

The TUC says the UK’s lack of decent sick pay is failing those in insecure work, undermining any prospect of a safe return to work, and forcing those in insecure work to choose between doing the right thing and putting food on the table.

The UK currently has one of the lowest rates of sick pay in Europe and nearly two million workers, including many in insecure work, do not earn enough to qualify for it.

The TUC is calling on ministers to increase statutory sick pay to at least the rate of the real Living Wage and make it available for everyone.

Disposable labour

Insecure workers are unlikely to benefit from the full range of employment rights that permanent, more secure workers are entitled to, including vital safeguards such as unfair dismissal and redundancy protections. The TUC says, as a result, too many employers treat insecure workers like ‘disposable labour’.

In 2019, the government promised that it would bring forward a new employment bill to improve people’s rights at work. But there has been no sign of the legislation since it was first announced in the post-election 2019 Queen’s Speech.

Frances O’Grady, TUC general secretary, said: “No matter your race or background, everyone deserves fair pay and to be treated with dignity and respect. But during the pandemic, we’ve seen higher infections and death rates in insecure jobs.

“Too many workers are trapped on zero hours contracts or in other sorts of insecure work, and are hit by a triple whammy of endemic low pay, few workplace rights and low or no sick pay. Lots of them are the key workers we all applauded – like social care workers, delivery drivers and coronavirus testing staff. This must be a turning point.

“Ministers must urgently raise statutory sick pay to the level of the real Living Wage, and make sure everyone can get it – including those on zero hours contracts and other forms of insecure work. If people can’t observe self-isolation when they need to, the virus could rebound. No-one should have to choose between doing the right thing and putting food on the table.

“And ministers must tackle the scourge of insecure work by finally bringing forward their promised Employment Bill. It’s time to ban zero-hours contracts, false self-employment and to end exploitation at work.”

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