Unite’s Brexit Check research exposes opportunistic employers

Unite’s workplace representatives are increasingly reporting that employers are trying to force through pay freezes or below inflation pay offers, citing Brexit as the reason for their actions.

A unique Brexit Check exercise launched by Unite in order to understand how Brexit is affecting workers revealed reps concerns. The union has started to regularly survey 22,000 reps, using a database specifically being developed for the purpose, on how the UK’s decision to leave the European Union is affecting their workplaces.

This will ensure that Unite is doing everything possible to protect its members during the Brexit negotiations and beyond.

Early indications demonstrate the two biggest issues are forthcoming pay talks where reps believe Brexit is likely to be a factor (48 per cent) and concerns that their workplace is reliant on freedom of movement (42 per cent).

The survey also demonstrates that where Unite is well organised in the workplace the worst aspects of Brexit ‘opportunism’ by employers are being rebuffed.

One West Midlands automotive components company initially offered a below inflation 1.5 per cent pay increase due to ‘Brexit’ but following an industrial action ballot where Unite members supported strike action, with a 96 per cent yes vote, the company then offered a three per cent pay increase, which was accepted.

Although reps have reported that Brexit has mainly had a negative effect on pay talks, the prospect of Brexit has also been used in a positive way. At Bentley, Unite negotiators were able to agree a multi-year inflation busting pay increase. Both sides realised that a long-term pay deal was needed to create security in the face of Brexit.

Several companies have used the prospect of Brexit to try to avoid paying annual holiday pay (which includes overtime pay) as it relates to the European Union Working Time Directives. In June Unite won an employment tribunal against a major cleaning and services company which had failed to incorporate voluntary overtime into workers’ holiday pay. A major utilities company has taken a similar position and this remains unresolved.

Other opportunistic attacks by employers, blamed on Brexit, reported by Unite reps include threats to pension schemes, reductions in trade union facility time and attempts to block reps sitting on European Work Councils.

Unite reps have also reported that employers have cancelled or postponed new investment and in other cases there has been a threat to relocate jobs, often overseas.

Unite will be updating the results from its Brexit Check survey on a quarterly basis.

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey, said: “Unite is putting employers on notice. They need to realise that if they use Brexit as an excuse for attacking workers’ pay and conditions, we will challenge and expose them.

“These are early results but we are beginning to see a clear pattern that employers are already opportunistically using Brexit as an excuse to attack the terms and conditions of workers.

“Where workers are well organised they have been able to call the employers’ bluff and have overturned pay freezes and below inflation offers and secured decent pay increases. For working people, one of the best protections they will have against any Brexit downsides that may hit their workplace is to join a union.

“We are urging the government to work with trade unions to gauge the impact of Brexit on workplaces and communities. We are the ones with the links to the workers who are already experiencing Brexit so our insights can only help inform the government’s approach.”