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Damning report looks at why Sheffield City Region is the UK’s ‘Low Pay Capital’

Researchers find “a combination of deindustrialisation, financialisation and austerity” has led to low pay, low-skill work and precarious conditions in Sheffield’s labour markets.

Workers protest pay rise

A new report looking at the history of low pay in Sheffield City Region and the problems facing workers today has been published by Sheffield Trades Union Council (TUC) and the Sheffield Needs A Pay Rise campaign.

Researchers from three universities including Sheffield Hallam found that the City Region relies on low-paid, part-time and insecure jobs, with women, young people, disabled people, and BAME and LGBTQ+ workers being hit hardest.

The report found worrying trends across seven sectors – retail, hospitality, social care, transport and storage, higher education, call centres and the NHS – including workers in Sheffield being required to do unpaid trial shifts, being kept behind after a shift had ended, and being expected to pay for their uniform and work equipment.

In some cases it was found that employers had not paid the minimum wage and had not ensured “access to sick and holiday pay, rest periods, effective health and safety protection from unfair dismissal.”

One of the report’s contributors, Bob Jeffrey, Sheffield TUC member and Senior Lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University, told Now Then that among the reasons was deindustrialisation, particularly the restructuring and ultimate closures of the steel and coal industries in the early to mid-1980s, which saw the replacement of relatively stable, well-paid work.

“The situation in Sheffield has developed over decades, but it has also been impacted by relatively short-run factors such as the government austerity, welfare reform and even the 2016 Trade Union Act.

“A further issue is the financialisation of the economy, which has driven short-term business approaches and less of a willingness to invest in the workforce,” Jeffrey said.

He noted that the deregulation of the labour market, loss of employment protections and attacks on trade unions “push people towards, and keep them in, lower-quality jobs” in Sheffield City Region.

Jeffrey said that a key argument of the Sheffield Needs A Pay Rise campaign is that “the power to transform working conditions is very much in the hands of workers [...] mobilising around collective demands for secure contracts, decent wages and union recognition.”

“The history of the trade union movement teaches us that if workers wait on the benevolence of owners to improve their terms and conditions, they might be waiting a very long time.”

In the medium term, the campaign aims to influence the Government around industrial policy, investment in education and skills, and employment legislation. In the longer term, Jeffrey says it’s important that we talk about how we value work.

He said that the coronavirus pandemic causing greater recognition and appreciation for key workers was a step in the right direction, but that the job was far from done.

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