by Caroline Colebrook
THE GOVERNMENT has launched an underhanded attack on the equality and employment rights of millions of vulnerable workers in answer to demands from bosses who say they can’t afford it during the slump.
The Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) last Monday told the Government that the current economic climate is too fragile to demand that equal pay reviews should be imposed on employers. Instead of standing up for the rights of vulnerable workers it is acting for the Government and big business by keeping a lid on demands for too-long delayed equal rights.
Currently women’s pay is on average 17 per cent less than mens and the gap is widening, making nonsense of the equal pay act that was passed over four decades ago.
PCS last week also drew attention to cuts that the EHRC is making to its helplines, which provide a service for vulnerable workers seeking advice on equality issues. The Manchester helpline is to be axed while those based in Cardiff, Glasgow and Birmingham will be slimmed down and 50 jobs will go. undermine
The move comes at a time when calls to the helpline are increasing due to the recession. Despite repeated representations from the union, the Manchester helpline, which handled over 50,000 enquiries last year from members of the public facing discrimination, goes this autumn. This, PCS warns, would undermine key government initiatives.
PCS national vice-president, Sue Bond said: “This is a key frontline service that provides support and advice for people who face discrimination in all its forms in every walk of life.
“It makes no sense to cut helpline posts at a time when call volumes are increasing, The EHRC need to think again and recognise that the service skilled and professional staff deliver is too valuable to downsize.”
Meanwhile Peter Mandelson has decided to outsource another vital Government helpline for workers facing employment rights violations.
The move to outsource the new single enforcement hotline, which includes advice on the national minimum wage, comes despite opposition from the TUC, PCS and MPs.
The formation of a single hotline for vulnerable workers brings together helplines for the national minimum wage, health and safety, gangmasters, employment agencies and the agricultural minimum wage. Many fear that lumping so many issues under one umbrella – as with equality issues – will allow the Government to dilute the service to each issue and in fact serve to curb legal demands from workers and act on behalf of the bosses.
PCS warns that outsourcing the new hotline could fail vulnerable workers, with providers lacking current staff’s expertise and links with enforcement bodies.
Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary, said: “The important work of the vulnerable workers enforcement forum risks being undermined by the outsourcing of a key helpline that will cover the minimum wage and employment rights.
“We have major concerns about the lack of full consultation on these plans and doubt whether contractors have the expertise to deliver the new unified helpline.
“There is a danger that providers will cut costs, resulting in the help and support for vulnerable workers being read from a script in some distant call centre.
“As the recession bites, vulnerable workers are most at risk of being exploited. Support, advice and enforcement cannot be done on the cheap and we urge Lord Mandelson to think again and keep the helpline in-house.”
TUC general secretary, Brendan Barber, added: “I am deeply disappointed that yet again the Government is turning to the private sector to deliver a crucial public function.
“The most vulnerable workers need real support and advice and this helpline could have been effectively delivered by dedicated public servants.”
Once again workers must face the reality that a bourgeois state will give them no protection against the greed and oppression of the ruling class and that their only real protection is in solidarity with each other.
As the ruling class sharpens its claws to suppress workers’ demands, so the workers must sharpen their union structures to defend themselves.