UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Exploitation of temporary workers in California being emulated at London Olympics

A profound personal testimony on the Mother Jones website describes the experience of unemployed workers trying to get back into work through the US company 'Labor Ready'. It describes the unpaid hours of waiting around, the false promises, the minimum wage, the exploitation and abuse, the underpayments, the health and safety violations and the summary dismissals. It also makes it clear that there is no union, no healthcare, no bargaining and no answering back. It also notes this is the fastest growing type of employment in the US, employing poor blacks and workers in their 60's and 70's who don't have a pension.

In other words it describes a world of work without a union presence at all.

But this is not some smug article about how bad it is 'over there'. This is the immediate situation in the UK for over a million workers, despite EU legislation. The 2012 London Olympics has seen tens of thousands of cleaners and security staff in the same situation. Minimum wage, poor 'living quarters' and no union presence. Exploitation and abuse - as reported by the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail - is a feature of this so called showcase event for the world, '10 to a room and 75 to share a shower' claims the Mail

Is it only a few weeks ago that 'security workers' on a Government job creation programme were promised jobs at the Olympics if they slept under London Bridge before working 16 hours unpaid at the Royal Jubilee event?

Unions long ago accepted the argument that they needed to organise in the 'new economy' - outside manufacturing and outside the public sector - in the service industry. But we don't appear so far to be anywhere near it. We are largely irrelevant. Fewer than 1 in 20 workers in accommodation and food services are unionised according to the 2011 Labour Force Survey.

We try reaching national 'understandings' or recognition lite agreements with the private companies. But on the ground it makes little difference.

It needs Organisers, it needs resources, it needs a fight with these vulture companies.

'Labor Ready' is not a nightmare waiting to happen, it is already happening. We must realise that as the public sector is being dismantled this is the type of employment that awaits in the private sector, as hundreds of thousands of social care workers can testify.

Are we up to the challenge?