Living on the Margins: Black workers and Casualisation

Black workers

In Britain there is more poverty in every ethnic minority group than among the white British population.

1 The TUC believes that a major cause of this poverty is race discrimination faced by black workers in the UK labour market. The lack of access to employment and to training and promotion opportunities has also consistently undermined the financial well-being of black communities in the UK. The 2008 recession led to lower levels of unemployment than many have been anticipated given the experiences of previous economic downturns of the 1980s and 1980s. However, it is clear that not all communities have benefitted from the recovery. As this report highlights, in the UK today Black and Minority Ethnic workers continue to experience high levels of unemployment. Recent research reveals that since 2010 the UK has witnessed a 50 per cent increase in the numbers of young people from BME communities in long-term unemployment.

2 The 2008 recession also heralded an increase in insecure and casual working in the UK. In the aftermath of the recession, as employment levels have risen, so too have the numbers of individuals working in part-time, temporary and insecure forms of employment. The growth in precarious work has been epitomised by the increased use in zerohours contracts. Official statistics confirm that by 2014, there were 1.8 million zero-hours contracts in use in the UK.

3 Findings from the Labour Force Survey (LFS) also suggested that the number of agency temps has grown in the aftermath of the recession.

4 Whilst atypical employment continues to represent a minority of overall employment – there is growing concern that the UK labour market is moving towards more low-paid, less secure and more exploitative forms of employment. TUC research published in December 2014 highlighted the human cost associated with the growth in casual work, including low pay, under-employment, and heightened financial insecurity.

Those in precarious employment are more vulnerable to exploitation. Their working patterns and hours are largely dictated by their employer and they have very little flexibility or autonomy over their lives. Due to their uncertain employment status, the transient nature of their work and their low level of weekly pay, many zero-hours contract workers, agency workers and others in insecure jobs lose out on basic rights at work.

Being in such a precarious situation means it is very difficult for workers to complain if they are treated badly. As a result they risk having the few rights they do have disregarded. This report highlights how BME workers have been disproportionately affected by the growth in part-time, insecure and low-paid employment. It illustrates the ways in which changes in working patterns and in the contractual relationship between employer and employees have had a negative effect on BME workers resulting in many living on the margins of the labour market.

The findings outlined in this report are based on an analysis of the Office for National Statistics (ONS) Quarterly Labour Force Survey (LFS). The case studies and quotes scattered throughout the report are largely drawn from an online survey carried out by the TUC in April/May 2014.

This survey received 3,244 responses. The vast majority of respondents were members of trade unions. One in three were employed in temporary work, including agency work, zero-hours contracts or fixed term contracts.

Given the precarious nature of their employment, the identities of the individuals have been anonymised. Precarious employment and BME workers Official statistics indicate that temporary and casual forms of employment, as well as part-time employment, have increased steadily in the aftermath of the recession.5 As shown in Table 1, by October to December 2014 more than 1.7 million employees in the UK were employed in some form of temporary work, an increase of more than 300,000 since the start of the recession.

Temporary working for these purposes includes agency working, employment on a fixed term contract, in casual work and other non-permanent employment than is temporary in some other way. The proportion of the overall workforce employed in some form of temporary work also increased from 5.5 per cent in 2008 to 6.5 per cent in 2014.6.