A North MP will stand up for workers rights over ‘umbrella’ companies that leave them out of pocket.
Construction employees paid by so-called umbrella companies claim they have been told to make up lost wages by claiming expenses, even fraudulently.
It is claimed that companies are getting around new government regulations forbidding them to treat workers as self-employed.
They set up umbrella companies so that the workers are not directly employed by the construction firms.
Unions UNITE and UCATT will join MPs in lobbying at the Houses of Parliament this Wednesday.
South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck, who will speak alongside union heads and other MPs, said:
“This is the latest in a long line of scams designed to help employers avoid their obligations to their employees and to taxpayers.
“The umbrella company loophole is costing construction workers in my constituency hundreds of pounds a month.
“These are the people who build our homes, schools and hospitals.
“They deserve better than to be conned out of a fair wage.
“The Government was warned about this problem a while ago, and I and other Labour MPs have been raising it in Parliament for months now, but we have been fobbed off by Ministers who don’t understand the scale of the problem.”
One electrician working at a building site in Northumberland was moved onto an umbrella scheme this year.
The worker said that since the change his wages were, on estimate, £2,500 to £3,500 down in six months.
“What they’re saying is that you’ve got to make it up on expenses,” he said.
“I talked to someone from the umbrella scheme on the phone to say that I couldn’t claim for driving and he said ‘surely one of your family uses a car. Use those petrol receipts’.
He said wages should not be reliant on expenses to recoup money lost through tax.
“Why should a trained electrician have to put up with a minimum wage?
“It’s been a struggle.”
In a recent report UCATT General Secretary Steve Murphy said:
“It was hoped that, as a result of the Government’s actions, construction workers would be paid properly and enjoy basic employment rights.
“The hope was dashed as, in order to get work, workers were forced to sign up to umbrella companies.”
But he said his members saw no increase in their wages.
“In fact they have to pay both employee’s and employer’s NI contributions, as much as a quarter of their eligible earnings,” he said.
Another worker, Andy, was in an umbrella scheme at a Teesside site.
He said he asked how to recover his wage and was told to fraudulently claim.
“They told me ‘you can claim six pounds a day for your parking,’ he said.
“The only thing was that the car park was private property – it was the site I worked at – and it wouldn’t cost me a penny.”
Umbrella companies act as an employer and accountant to clients, receiving invoices from them, paying the worker’s salary while deducting tax and a fee for their own work.
The method’s use has increased after government legislation was introduced to reduce the number of workers declared as self-employed.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 22 Nov 2014
So there I am with an invitation to attend an interview with a Jobcentre personal adviser as part Post Work Programme Support (PWPS).
“Now you have completed your time on the Work Programme” I am informed, “your personal adviser will assess the support you will need, based on your needs and skills, to help you find work and stay in suitable work.”
Readers may wonder what the hell the point of the previous two years of Work Programme (WP) had been, if not to “assess the support you will need, based on your needs and skills, to help you find work and stay in suitable work.” Apart, obviously, from making money for a bunch of private companies (Ingeus in my case) who couldn’t organize a piss-up in a brewery.
Anyhow, off I trot to the Jobcentre. I always think it’s a good idea to play it cool on these initial interviews, let them take the lead. There are good reasons for keeping your powder dry during these early encounters. For one thing, you might be lucky enough to have drawn a decent human being as your adviser – it can happen.
My previous Jobseeker’s Agreement (JSAg) had been drawn up prior to my starting WP by one such decent adviser, who listened to my points, agreed they were fair enough and we quickly put together a JSAg we could both live with. Everyone was happy, no conflict or stress.
Thinking about it, I realised that I hadn’t seen him around the jobcentre for some considerable time, so perhaps he was sacked for not sanctioning enough people, or perhaps quit in disgust at the way things were going. He was a gentleman, and there are all too few of them in the DWP.
So, as I say – hold back at first, see which way the cookie crumbles. If your adviser is a wrong ‘un, they’ll think you’re another subservient sanction-fodder and will start to take liberties. Give them enough rope now and later you’ll be able to, if not exactly lynch them, at least give them some severe rope-burns to remember you by.
So I sat and watched him instantly tear into my existing JSAg, took notes and laid my plans accordingly.
He didn’t like anything about it, starting with the three “types of job I am looking for”. Now this bit always annoys me – we’re constantly being told that we must be flexible, willing to consider all types of jobs, etc… then they demand that you limit yourself to three ! Where’s the logic ? I always point this out to the adviser, then put three jobs I have done and feel confident that, if I should get an interview for one tomorrow, I could go along, walk the walk, talk the talk and generally appear to actually know something about the job.
Not good enough for this guy, though. He immediately erased one of my choices and replaced it with ‘Assembly’. I pointed out (meekly, still playing that role) that I had no prior experience of assembly work and indeed wasn’t even quite sure what it entails. Not important, apparently. He wanted Assembly on there, and that was that.
At this point it might be useful to refer back to an article in the Guardian a couple of years ago in which a DWP whistleblower lifted the lid on some of the tricks advisers use to sanction people. In particular –
He said staff had different ways to ensure they could stop benefits for a set amount of people. “So, for example, if you want someone to diversify – they’re an electrician or a plumber, they may not want to go into call centres or something. What you do is keep promoting such and such a job, and you pressure them into taking it off you, the piece of paper. Then in two weeks you look at the system, you ask them if they applied for it … they say no – you stop their money for six months.”
I think that was what this adviser was up to. (Read whole Guardian article here – http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2011/apr/01/jobcentres-tricking-people-benefit-sanctions )
Of course, the joke is that my CV is probably one of the most diverse you’ll find anywhere. Starting with A for Archaeology and working through the alphabet to W for Warehouse (my dream job would be in a zoo, so I could really claim an A-Z of job titles) – although it should be pointed out that at no time did this adviser enquire about previous experience or ask to see my CV. I might well be able to work in assembly (whatever it is) for all I know, and I’m not ruling it out you understand – but replacing a job I have a track record record in with one I know nothing about, well it just doesn’t seem to make any sense, does it ?
Except, of course, as an instrument of sanction.
And so it continued – he went his merry way, changing just about everything, ticking boxes, all with no discussion with me. I sat back and watched him have his fun.
Then it was my turn. He printed off two copies of the revised JSAg signed them, then gave them to me to sign. I took a minute or two to read through it, then said:
“No, sorry, I can’t sign these.”
Wonderful ! You’d have thought I’d just punched him in the face (something I had admittedly been thinking about while watching him deconstruct my JSAg). I think these bullying individuals have become so used to pushing through these dodgy JSAgs that it comes as something as a shock when somebody tells them “no”. Playing the meek role encourages them to over-reach themselves, as they feel there’s nothing to stop them.
The interview time was just about up by now and his next victim was waiting, and so, after a bit of huffing and puffing he said we’d have to continue this at our next meeting.
“Fine,” I said, “Look forward to it”. He looked less than enthralled at the prospect.
As I was walking away I remembered something, so turned back.
“I assume that my original JSAg is still in force ?”
He didn’t seem sure, but then decided “No, as you haven’t signed the new one, you have no JSAg at the moment.”
Hah ! Caught you in a lie !
In fact, until such a time as a new JSAg is signed by both parties, the old one remains in operation. It’s worth remembering that, and asking them the same question. If they tell you no, then that’s something to note down for use in a future appeal.
To be continued…