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The latest industry news - including the government's plans to introduce anti-strike legislation and closing the Gender Pay Gap.

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Protect the right to strike campaign on red background

No one should be sacked for trying to win a better deal at work

In recent months, workers across the UK have been taking action for fair pay, decent conditions, and better public services.

Nurses, teachers, railway workers, civil servants, postal workers, ambulance workers, bus drivers, freight workers, barristers, junior doctors, university staff and refuse workers have all taken strike action in the last year. On 1 February alone, an estimated half a million people were on strike, the biggest day of industrial action in more than a decade.

Many of these disputes were sparked by unsatisfactory pay offers that failed to keep up with the rate of inflation. But workers across the public sector are also warning that the services they run – our hospitals, schools, and public transport networks – can no longer cope with the pressures of low pay, understaffing and funding cuts.

In this context, we would expect to see an employer getting around the table with unions, listening to workers’ concerns and negotiating fair pay agreements.

Instead, the government plans to introduce anti-strike legislation.

What does the legislation do?

The Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill 2023 is intended to amend the legal framework governing industrial action to enable Minimum Service Levels to be set in key sectors during periods of strike action. Effectively, it overrides democratic and lawful votes for strike action by workers in six essential sectors: health, education, fire, transport, border security and nuclear decommissioning.

Workers in these sectors could be forced to work on strike days and sacked if they refuse to comply. Unions who fail to adhere to the government’s requirements could face million-pound fines.

But beyond that, the Bill provides little detail about how the new law would be implemented. It doesn’t outline what the “minimum service levels” would be, or precisely define the six sectors impacted. Additionally, it fails to recognise that in key sectors, arrangements for emergency cover are already agreed in good faith between employers and unions.

Britain already has some of the most restrictive trade union laws in Europe. And put simply, this bill is another open attack on the fundamental right to strike.

Undemocratic, unworkable and almost certainly illegal

In the months since its introduction to parliament, criticism of the draconian legislation has poured in from many different directions.

The TUC (Trade Union Congress) has described the bill as “undemocratic, unworkable and almost certainly illegal.” Union leaders have also warned that by closing off legitimate and effective avenues for workers to express their demands, the law could make strikes more frequent, lengthy, and divisive.

Parliament’s joint committee on human rights has concluded that the proposals are “not justified and should be reconsidered” because they fail to meet the UK’s human rights obligations.

A group of 50 civil liberties organisations, including Liberty, Human Rights Watch and Oxfam, slammed the bill in an open letter, calling it “an unwarranted curtailment of freedom of assembly and association” that “has the potential to cause significant damage to fair and effective industrial relations in this country.”

Feminist campaigners have warned that the bill discriminates against women, who are over-represented in the sectors involved. And race equalities organisations are concerned that Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) workers could be unfairly targeted for dismissal under the auspices of the bill.

What’s next?

The anti-strikes bill is currently passing through the House of Lords, where peers and parliamentary committees have raised major concerns about its viability. But the government has shown no intention of scrapping or significantly amending the legislation.

But working people are fighting back. More than a quarter of a million people have already signed the TUC’s petition. You can add your name and join the campaign.


Comments on the Bill

Closing the Gender Pay Gap

As of February 2023, the gender pay gap across the British economy stands at 14.9%. What this means in practice is that women are working the first 54 days of the year – almost all of January and February – for free. While the gap is closing over time, progress has been much too slow. At the current rate of improvement, it will be another 20 years before women are paid the same as men.

The problem also has a knock-on effect on pensions. Research from Scottish Widows shows that due to persistent imbalances in pay, caring responsibilities and working hours, women are retiring with £123,000 less in their pension pots than men.

This isn’t good enough. And for a union whose members are 75% female, it’s a major concern. Particularly because, in our sector, we’re still seeing gender pay gaps above the national average.

In 2021/22, LBG had a median gender pay gap of 34.8%, with no improvement on the previous year. And at TSB, the median gender pay gap in 2021/22 was 23.7%, a reduction of 1.9% on the previous year.

There are other pay gaps we need to think about too. In 2021/22, Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) workers at LBG earned 12.6% less than their white counterparts. Black colleagues are particularly severely affected, with a pay gap of 17.5%. And at TSB, the median ethnicity pay gap was 13.1% in 2021/22, an increase of 5.2% on the previous year.

According to the TUC (Trade Union Congress), there’s also a disability pay gap of 17.2% across the economy, though neither LBG nor TSB currently reports on the disability pay gap. At Accord’s 2022 conference a motion was passed calling for them to do so, and the union is campaigning to make that happen.

What needs to change?

As a union, we’re continuing to work with the employers to improve pay and conditions for women and speed up the pace of change. The pay gap has lots of different causes and tackling it requires both employers and the government to take a range of different steps.

Firstly, we need to stamp out direct pay inequality wherever it happens. In 2023, it’s not acceptable for any woman to be paid less than her male colleagues for equivalent work. Yet it still happens. Any woman who suspects she’s being paid unfairly should raise the issue with the union.

Secondly, we need government and employers to pay attention to the periods of women’s lives when the pay gap is at its worst. While women in their twenties are close to pay parity with men of the same age, once they reach their thirties the pay gap opens and keeps getting wider from there. For women aged between 50 and 59, the pay gap stands at 20.8%.

Gender pay gap by age, 2022
Source: TUC

This reflects the fact that women take on a disproportionate share of caring responsibilities throughout their lives, whether for children, grandchildren, or elderly relatives. This tends to push women into part-time work, which is typically lower paid with less opportunity for progression. And in many cases, it forces women out of employment entirely. A woman in her thirties, for example, is ten times more like to be out of the workforce due to caring responsibilities than a man of the same age.

To address this problem, we need employers to continue to improve their offer on flexible working, so that women can balance work and caring responsibilities. And the government must act on the soaring cost of childcare, which pushes too many new mums out of the workforce.

Finally, a major cause of pay gaps, particularly in banking, is that men, white workers, and able-bodied workers are more likely to hold well-paid senior roles, while women, BME workers and disabled workers disproportionately do lower-paid, more junior jobs.

This is an issue that the sector has recognised. The FTSE Women Leaders Review has set all FTSE350 companies a 40% goal for women on boards and in leadership roles. LBG has already hit that target and is committed to doing more.

This is welcome progress. But at the same time, action on the gender pay gap must not focus exclusively on senior women in the best-paid jobs. Women at every level should benefit from fair and equal pay, flexible conditions, and opportunities to progress.