Workplace issues: Past and present

workers rights
The struggle for workers’ rights is constantly evolving, with new issues emerging as the nature of work changes. While some struggles such as the campaigns to restrict working hours date back to over two centuries, others like the campaign for a living wage, are more recent. The history and the current law relating to some of these rights is outlined in this section.

Gender pay gap and the struggle for equal pay

Gender pay gap is the difference between male and female wages. This is expressed as a percentage of male earnings. The gender pay gap reduces women’s lifetime earnings and affects their pensions causing poverty for women in later life. The Office for National Statistics collects data on earnings in the UK which it uses to calculate gender pay differences.

Equal Opportunities

Sometimes people face discrimination in the workplace because of their disability, race, gender, sexual orientation, religious beliefs or age. Workers may also face discrimination because of belonging to more than one category. So a gender pay gap which gives lower wages to women than men is even greater for women with disabilities compared to able-bodied men.

Health and Safety at Work

Health and safety at work has become a widely used, and in some quarters, much derided term in recent years. This term refers to the legislation that is intended to promote the safety and well being of people while they are engaged in paid work. This legislation aims to protect workers from occupational hazards as well as injuries and fatalities at work.

Paid leave

Paid leave is time off work for which the employee is paid, and which can be used for whatever the employee wishes, including holidays or family duties. There is a statutory entitlement to paid leave in most countries, and many employers offer more than the minimum required by law.

Working hours

Working hours is the period of time that an individual spends at paid work. Time spent doing unpaid work such as housework or caring for children is not considered part of working hours.

Maternity (and paternity) leave and pay

Maternity and paternity leave (including adoption leave) is paid leave that an employee is entitled to, in order to care for their newborn or recently adopted child. The period of such leave varies in different countries, and generally includes both a legally enforceable maternity leave and maternity pay.

National minimum wage and the living wage

The national minimum wage in the UK sets minimum hourly rates that employers must pay their workers. It covers almost all workers in the UK. There are three age-based rates and an apprentice rate, which are set in October every year by the by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and enforced by HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC).

Home-based Work

Homeworkers are people who work for money in their own homes. Home-based work (also known as homework) takes place all over the world and most home-based workers are women. Many women from migrant communities work as homeworkers in London and in the major cities of Northern England and Scotland.