Call for new fair employment commission

Citizens Advice Bureau website
Image caption CAS said in the past two years its bureaux had handled 107,000 cases relating to treatment at work

Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) has called for a new body to be set up to protect workers from abuse and exploitation by bosses.

The charity said politicians at Holyrood and Westminster should liaise to create a Fair Employment Commission.

In the past two years, Scottish citizens advice bureaux have handled 107,000 cases where people claimed to have been treated unfairly at work.

CAS said it feared that could be the tip of the iceberg.

In a report entitled Fair Employment, CAS said while there were organisations for people to turn to for help, the role of statutory bodies - such as the Health and Safety Executive and the enforcement division of the National Minimum Wage - was "far from comprehensive".

It claimed there was no statutory enforcement body to which many workers could take their complaints, because existing bodies had "narrow and closely-defined" remits.

In 2010-11, CAB staff helped with more than 11,000 issues concerning pay and entitlements at work and more than 5,000 new cases relating to redundancy.

They also dealt with almost 8,000 new cases where people had been dismissed, with most of these involving unfair, constructive or wrongful dismissal.

'Less generous'

The Fair Employment report said one of the "key features" of the recession had been that "many employers retained staff on less generous terms and conditions rather than making large numbers of employees redundant".

While it said this was "usually preferable" to redundancy, it claimed cutting workers' hours and wages could have a significant impact.

The report stated: "As a result of the fragmented enforcement regime, our evidence shows that many employees are unable to raise and resolve poor practices that they experience at work. This leaves some employers free to continue inadequate and sometimes illegal employment practices."

It added: "It is time for the government to give exploited workers somewhere to turn, through the creation of a Fair Employment Commission with the legal powers and resources both to secure individual vulnerable workers their rights, and to root out the rogues."

CAS head of policy Susan McPhee said: "The cases we see are bad enough, but we get a sense from talking to these clients that there are many more people out there who are suffering these problems but are too scared to come forward, because they fear they will lose their job."

She said those who experienced problems at work were often low-paid and low-skilled workers, with many unaware of their rights leaving them "vulnerable to unfair treatment by rogue employers".

She stated: "As a society we might have hoped that workplace exploitation was a thing of the distant past. Sadly, this report shows that many Scots are still being treated unfairly.

"Examples include illegal changes to contracts, unfair dismissal, low pay, withheld wages and victimisation of those who have tried to demand their rights."

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