Tag Archives: LUBS

The Coronavirus crisis exposes further the fault lines in the proposed post-Brexit Points Based System of immigration. But will it lead to a re-think?

Gabriella Alberti, Ioulia Bessa, Zyama Ciupijus, Jo Cutter, Chris Forde, CERIC

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The coronavirus crisis has ignited debate over ‘essential’, ‘skilled’ and ‘high public value’, and has brought into sharp focus the contradictions in the government’s post-Brexit points-based migration system. In this blog, and a more detailed briefing, we ask whether the current crisis will compel policy makers in the UK to rethink the narrow economic and salary threshold criteria that have been proposed to determine the eligibility of migrants to undertake work in the UK.

The COVID-19 pandemic is having profound effects on work and employment across the world. 4 out of 5 workers, out of a total workforce of 3.3 billion globally, have had their workplaces partially or totally closed as a result of the crisis.

The impact of coronavirus on global mobility and migration flows is also profound. The pandemic has led to an urgent re-assessment of the regulation of migration, with more than 200 countries implementing coronavirus-related restrictions on border entries, including on those migrating for economic reasons.

In the UK, the COVID-19 crisis has brought into even sharper focus the crisis of labour mobility that was triggered by the UK Exit from the European Union. Should the UK government should seek to extend the transition period beyond December 31st 2020, in order to avoid inflicting a double pain for UK economy from the coronavirus crisis and Brexit? More fundamentally, will the coronavirus pandemic force a re-think of the way that governments intervene to regulate migration, given changing perceptions of essential and high public value roles?

The Points-Based System: outdated and unfit for purpose?

The analyse the Points-Based System in more detail in our longer briefing paper. The main features are that all applicants will require a sponsor before moving to the UK, a job offer at the required skill level (RQF 3 and above) and a required level of English language, each of which generates a number of points. Other characteristics, including the salary level of the job, and whether the job is on the Shortage Occupation List can be ‘traded’ to reach the required points threshold to qualify a work permit.

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, there had already been widespread criticism of this new system by unions and employer bodies. The underlying approach of seeking to attract ‘the brightest and the best’ was seen as outdated and likely to lead to acute labour shortages in particular sectors. There had been widespread calls for a lowering of the salary and skills thresholds that were in the proposals.

The coronavirus pandemic has further exposed the fault lines in this points-based system. Occupations that are recognised as essential in the COVID-19 crisis, and where migrants are heavily concentrated – in healthcare, healthcare, transportation, food processing and delivery – include many roles that are defined at low-skill and value in the proposed post-Brexit points Based system of migration. The proposed new system regulating migrants’ entry in the UK does not include a channel for such “low skilled” workers, only allowing entry in exceptional circumstances where workers are classified by the Migration Advisory Committee under a shortage occupation list.

Mass Brexodus?

The capacity to retain EU workers in these sectors will depend on the effective functioning of the EU settlement scheme. Yet, many EU citizens in the UK have already made alternative choices: to go back home or leave the UK for another EU member state where they can still enjoy free movement. The most recent ONS data for the year ending September 2019 shows EU net migration falling sharply by 64,000 and the number of EU citizens arriving for work at its lowest since June 2016.

Some of the sectors with the most urgent and pressing needs for labour to respond to the coronavirus pandemic are those that have been those most affected by this ‘Brexodus’. In healthcare, where unfilled vacancies are at record levels, there have been sharp declines in the numbers of nurses and midwives registered from the EU over 2017 and 2018. In agricultural food picking, there have been widely reported labour shortages during the coronavirus crisis. The same sector has suffered large falls in numbers of EU migrant workers since the Brexit referendum.

Some jobs classified as essential in the COVID-19 crisis are already defined as having high skilled and/or of high social value in the government’s mapping of the ‘value’ of occupations under the proposed points-based system. This includes teaching professional and nurses, for example.

But many jobs are not seen as essential under this mapping. 55 per cent of EU migrants work in occupations that are categorised by the government as ‘low-skilled’ under the proposed migration regime, and thus would not be eligible for the skilled workers’ route to secure a work permit. Included here are many caring, construction transport, food processing and packaging jobs. This has already led to calls for a rethink of the points-based system. Just last week, Liz Kendall, the new shadow social care minister wrote to the Health Secretary, requesting a fast-track visa regime to be created for care workers.”

Conclusion: Towards a future social value of migrants

Will the COVID-19 crisis lead to a re-think by policy makers in their approach to post-Brexit migration regulation? Will perceptions of the value of particular occupations and migrant workers in the UK move beyond narrow economic modelling, salary threshold and shortage occupation criteria, and how might this be achieved?

The current crisis may offer a new terrain for migrant workers themselves to show their ‘value’, not only to the economy but for society at large and to bargain for better conditions, beyond statutory and employer-controlled salary thresholds.

It seems to us that in the field of migrant labour the pandemic opens up a number of opposing scenarios. On the one hand there are utilitarian and draconian approaches focused on state self- sufficiency and restrictions on movement of labour. On the other hand there may be approaches which better recognise the inevitable interconnectedness of our lives, mobilities, care and survival in a world that cannot travel back from globalisation.

This blog is based on an ongoing wider programme of research undertaken within CERIC on migration. If you would like to comment on the issues covered in this report, or be involved in future events around migration, please contact:

Dr Gabriella Alberti
Email: g.alberti@leeds.ac.uk

Steel in Crisis: Restructuring for People

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Chris McLachlan, Leeds University Business School.

The construction of an industrial strategy for UK steel is essential. Within the debate over this requirement and as part of its development, it is important to have an understanding of what happens at plant level when restructuring and redundancy occur. A plant that is of key focus in the current steel crisis is Tata Steel’s long products site in Scunthorpe. The plant has undergone successive restructuring processes in recent years, with ‘Project Ark’ in 2011, ‘Path to Profit’ in 2013, and now the decision to sell the long products division.

Some 2,600 job losses have been announced over this 4 year period, which leaves the Scunthorpe site with approximately 3,000 employees. Since the divestment decision the security of the entire site has been under threat. The recent announcement of the potential sale of the long products division to UK based investment firm Greybull Capital provides hope for the Scunthorpe site, but for its employees a worrying period of uncertainty remains. This contraction of the UK steel industry workforce has, of course, been in train since the 1980s. Amidst the prevailing industrial context, the recent bout of restructuring is having profoundly negative effects on not only the lives and careers of individuals but also the communities affected by the restructuring. Banners at recent Save Our Steel events in Scunthorpe and Sheffield simply stating ‘HELP OUR TOWN’ (image below) are testament to the extensive impact of the current steel crisis. How might firms maintain their social responsibility to workers and communities in the face of these job cuts? Indeed, do organisations have a social responsibility for their employees?

Tata Steel Demo

At Scunthorpe, a notable step in attempting to develop a socially responsible approach to restructuring was the Project Ark process in 2011. This process was framed around a broader commercial strategy that reduced the volume of steel produced at the site, and further justified through a focus on producing higher quality, higher value added steel products along with a plan of investment in skills and training that sought to create a more flexible workforce. The consequence of this, however, was the announcement of 1200 job losses due the mothballing of the bloom and billet mill. The Project Ark strategy was a critical moment between Tata and the affiliated trade unions, as the job losses were essentially agreed by both parties to on the promise of future investment in skills and the broader commercial plan that promised to ensure the survival of the plant. Evidently, these promises were not upheld by Tata. At Save Our Steel rallies, senior union officials and MPs continue to bemoan the Project Ark process, with the subsequent Path to Profit process (500 job losses announced) perceived as a residual restructuring from the failures of Project Ark. Meanwhile, the HR team were rewarded for their efforts in managing the job losses, receiving an internal CEO award for their efforts in conducting a socially responsible restructuring process. Therefore, it is clear that Tata appreciate the need – the requirement, even – to ensure their restructuring practices are conducted in this way, with the process also being used as benchmark across the rest of their UK operations.

Tata claims a social responsibility to ameliorate the impact of these job losses for affected individuals and the local community. This commitment is laid out in its most recent Annual Report (2014-15). The socially responsible restructuring processes at Tata Steel UK have typically been characterised and managed through the avoidance of ‘hard’ (compulsory) redundancies – through redeployment practices such as cross-matching affected individuals in vacant positions internally – a close working relationship with the trade unions, and the provision of basic employability support in CV writing and interview training for those made redundant. As long as people who wish to leave do so voluntarily, this allows those wishing to remain to take up alternative employment within the organisation. The joint management-union goal of plant survival, has always been the key rationale underlying these processes. Amidst the prevailing industrial context the threat of restructuring within Tata seems more imminent than ever. The announcement of more job losses (18.1.16) at Tata UK’s Port Talbot site is clear evidence of this. In this context, the sustainability of this socially responsible approach to restructuring is subject to increasing amounts of pressure. The coming negotiations between Tata and its trades unions will prove historically significant not only for the fate of the Scunthorpe site but for the UK steel production more broadly. The feet of steel workers are being held firmly to the blast furnace fire.

Up to £6m has been pledged by UK Steel Enterprise (a CSR-based subsidiary of Tata that supports steel areas affected by restructuring) and the government to aid regeneration and job creation in Scunthorpe, along with another £3m aimed at funding retraining for affected individuals. Supportive measures like this, however important and in real terms quite limited, become devalued when CEO of Tata Steel Europe Karl Koehler claims that the long products division has no future beyond the end of the financial year. Moves like this further disillusion the workforce, creating a reluctance to engage with the range of support measures on offer. Additionally, recent changes in organisational structure in order to prepare the plant for being a ‘standalone’ business, then the subsequent decision to sell the division off, has put further pressure on the Scunthorpe plant to control costs and hence pressure on jobs. Given that previous restructuring processes have been necessarily framed around the survival of the plant, the imminent threats that these events pose bring into question any notion of a socially responsible approach. What is crucial in the negotiations around restructuring, job losses and sell off, is for Tata to continue to engage with trade unions in order to ameliorate, and where possible limit, the amount of job losses so as to ensure the process is conducted in a socially responsible fashion.

Chris McLachlan is a PhD student at Leeds University Business School and a member of the Centre for Employment Relations, Innovation and Change.

 

 

 

Paying the price for commissioning in social care? The minimum wage and domiciliary care work in the UK

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Chris Forde
Chris Forde is Professor of Employment Studies at CERIC.

@CERIC_LUBS

When The Low Pay Commission’s annual recommendations were released a fortnight ago, most attention focused on the 12p and 5p rises in the minimum wage for adults and 18-20 year olds. As in previous years, these recommendations have attracted headlines about the level of the minimum wage, and the effects of the NMW on employment. Yet, whilst there is broad consensus over the importance of setting a floor for wage levels, the focus on a minimum wage may detract attention away from the more fundamental problem of low paid jobs in the UK economy. Why are there so many low paid jobs in sectors such as hospitality, retail, social care and personal and protective services? There is a need for a clearer understanding of how a diverse range of factors, including employer strategies, government commissioning regimes, and sectoral norms combine to institutionalise low pay in particular sectors.

In this respect, it is worth focusing in on one of the LPCs supplementary recommendations in their 2013 report. The Commission has recommended that contracts issued by public bodies which commission the provision of social care should contain a clause requiring at least the NMW to be paid.  One in 12 jobs in social care were paid at or below the minimum wage by 2011 and there has been much interest from the LPC in whether the commissioning of social care by local authorities is a contributory factor.

Within social care pay in domiciliary care has attracted most attention, and it was this sector was the focus of my report with colleagues Ioulia Bessa, Sian Moore and Mark Stuart from the Centre for Employment Relations Innovation and Change (CERIC), for the LPC this year. Almost 700,000 workers are now employed in the UK providing care for people in their homes, with the number of jobs expanding rapidly as the population ages. As commissioning of public service delivery of domiciliary social care has increased, so the number of directly employed care workers has fallen sharply. A decade ago, most domiciliary care workers were employed by local authorities, whereas now they are much more likely to be employed through one of the 6000 registered home care providers in the UK. The vast majority of publicly funded home care is provided by these private and voluntary organisations through contracts commissioned by local authorities. A recent survey found that there was increasing pressure on providers in terms of what they can cost in contracts. Local authorities may effectively pay only for workers’ ‘contact time’ with a client, rather than including any provision for ‘travel time’ between visits, which can be considerable.

Our research was able to shed light on the realities of work and pay for those in front-line domiciliary care roles. First, we analysed a unique national dataset on employment in the domiciliary care sector, the National Minimum Dataset for Social Care, gathered by Skills for Care. This dataset contains information on pay levels for domiciliary care workers, although, critically, it does not allow us to identify directly whether travel-time is included in hourly pay. Nonetheless, even without adjusting for unpaid travel time, we found that between 2008 and 2012, 1 per cent of domiciliary care workers were paid below the minimum wage, a figure which rose to 2.5 per cent in 2012.   Our case studies of five local authorities all revealed that none currently specified payment of the NMW in its contracts or actively monitored compliance, although two had undertaken research on provider pay rates as part of budget scrutiny exercises and quality assurance. One local authority representative argued that it was not their responsibility to monitor compliance amongst its providers, noting: ‘That is their business, that’s not something that we would get involved in.  It is up to them how they deliver’.

We do make it clear in our report that these percentages should be seen as a lower-bound estimate of those paid under the minimum wage, as they do not take into account the significant amount of travel time that domiciliary care workers undertake within their working day. In our case studies, commissioning documentation sometimes explicitly stated that tenderers would not receive any separate payment from local authorities for workers’ travel costs and that they should cost travel time into their tender prices.  Yet providers typically set charge rates that did not incorporate travel time between visits. With tender contracts awarded on the basis of clear price and quality criteria, Commissioners were acutely aware of the potential impact of including travel time. As one noted:  ‘….we know the impact of not paying travelling time.  However, if it were to be included, it’s probably going to make the service unaffordable for us.  It’s a dilemma.  It doesn’t sit comfortably.… In terms of finance, I can’t give you a figure because we haven’t done that piece of work.  But yes, it would be significant, it would make a significant difference to the cost of the service at a time when we’re having to make huge cuts’.

The other factor that is crucial to understanding hourly pay for the domiciliary care worker is visit length. Most homecare visits being commissioned by local authorities are for periods of 30 minutes or less. For workers this may result in their work being arranged so that they have too many visits too close together or ‘call cramming’, resulting in their having to rush their work or leave a client early to get to their next visit on time.  Clearly, there are implications for compliance with the minimum wage, if extensive travel time is sandwiched between a series of short 15 minute visits, which are only paid for contact time. Some local authorities had begun to move away from commissioning 15 minute visits, and some paid enhanced rates for shorter visits. At one local authority in a semi-rural location, there had been a consultation of the cost implications of paying for travel time. This had revealed that additional allowances, including travel time, might add as much as £2 per hour to costs for providers, and the local authority was considering changes to its commissioning practices as a result.  It also highlights how much unpaid time is borne by the domiciliary care worker as a standard, typically non-negotiable part of their job, and suggests that the numbers paid under the minimum wage will be much higher when travel time is taken into account.

To begin to tackle these issues, Local authority contracts with care providers should explicitly state that external providers pay care workers an hourly rate for all working time, including the time required to travel between visits. There should also be transparency in procurement processes and contractors should be required to state what hourly rates comprise in terms of working time and specifically whether travel time is included, and whether there are enhanced rates for short visit lengths. Only then will it begin to address the realities of travel time, visit lengths and unpaid labour that currently characterise work in domiciliary care.