Little cheer at Christmas for many workers

Several reports focusing on the treatment of workers over the Christmas 1997 period have highlighted what some see as the growing exploitation and general poor treatment of many UK workers.

A survey of 374 organisations by the recruitment company, Reed Personnel, conducted prior to Christmas 1997, showed that the number of companies opening on Christmas Day has grown by a third over the past decade. Traditionally only organisations such as hospitals, the emergency services, hotels, telephone operator services and the media worked on Christmas Day, but this has now extended to the service sector in general and even to some manufacturing establishments. The service sector showed the largest increase in the proportion of establishments opening, up from 6% to 8% over the decade, while manufacturing rose from zero to 1%.

Commenting on the Reed survey, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) said that many people are obviously being forced to work on Christmas Day when they should be at home spending time with their families. The general secretary, John Monks. said that: "Clearly some people choose to work on a bank holiday. When they do they should be paid a premium rate and should get time off in lieu. But Christmas should be an exception when, apart from some obvious workers such as those delivering the emergency services, there is no reason why people should have to work." The TUC states that the survey highlights the importance to UK workers of the EU Directive on working time and the right it provides to four weeks' paid holidays.

Some of the bad conditions for workers over the Christmas period were also highlighted by the TUC's bad bosses hotline- a service for complaints about bullying at work (UK9712185F). Many callers said that they had been prevented from taking paid annual leave over the Christmas 1997 period, while others said that they had volunteered to work, but under duress. Many also complained about the lack of even simple rights at work, a point which was confirmed by a further report released on 15 January 1998 by the TUC, highlighting that there are 2.7 million workers in the UK who are denied employment rights because they do not have a permanent contract of employment. The report - entitled Job and go!- states that these temporary workers are routinely denied compensation for unfair dismissal and redundancy, and do not receive pay for holidays, sickness or maternity leave. They are also paid less than their permanent colleagues while doing the same job, and many are on "zero hours" contracts which means they are only paid for the hours which they are called in to work.

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