As we approach a year living with Covid-19, we at Community thought it was worth reflecting on how the pandemic has led to a loss of control over our lives and our workplaces. It has been nearly twelve months since we began the cycle of lockdowns, tiers, support schemes, and furloughs. Businesses have been forced to close their doors, millions have spent time on furlough or with reduced hours, and families nationwide have been struggling to make ends meet. And with all this, there has been little opportunity for workers to make decisions of their own, or to work with their employers to get through the crisis.
At Community, we wanted to understand how our members had coped with the pandemic. We wanted to hear their stories and experiences, in order to help build the case for greater worker-employer collaboration in the future. To this end, we have been surveying our members over the past year to find out more about their experiences of a year living and working with Covid-19.
Our most recent survey took place in December 2020 with Community members across all the sectors in our union, and in our recognised and unrecognised workplaces. We asked members about their working patterns, the impact on their incomes, their access to government support and benefits, and their mental wellbeing, as well as their health and safety. At the heart of all these issues was another question we asked: ‘Were you consulted about changes to your working hours, redundancy conditions, workplace safety or changes in working practices?’.
The responses to this key question were concerning. When looking at workers to whom this key question applied, just under half of our members surveyed said they had been ‘not consulted at all’, and fewer than 1 in 5 workers told us that they had meaningfully shaped proposals through consultation. Members were most likely to have been consulted about furlough, but in the case of redundancies, 39% told us they had not been consulted and 25% that the consultation made no difference.
Workers were least likely to have been consulted about changes to working practices, such as new technology processes like artificial intelligence and automation (41%). These findings are consistent with our recent research on workers and technology that found 65% of surveyed workers said they had not been consulted by their employers the last time new technologies were introduced.
Many of those members also told us that they were worried about surveillance at work and felt their employer had not done enough to protect their safety at work as many of these members continue to work from their usual workplace full time.
As our economy and workplaces continue to change, both as a result of Covid-19, and due to long term systemic issues, meaningful engagement with workers is essential to protect both jobs and businesses. In their latest report Carnegie UK recommend that the government commission new research on the consultation undertaken by employers regarding changes to their employees’ conditions. Such research would shed light on how barriers to consultation can be addressed and help us chart a path to workplaces where employees have a real say in the changes that affect them most of all.
Community is already working with some good employers to improve consultation in workplaces. Where employers, employees and trade unions have a forum for consultation, it benefits the business and the industry, as well as the workforce. All employers should embrace such a culture of workplace partnership and involve workers and trade unions, especially in technology-related decisions as our research recommends. There is a wealth of evidence linking engagement to productivity, at both an individual and organisational level. But we know that so much more needs to be done to ensure workers nationwide have a say in their futures. Covid-19 has meant huge changes to the world of work which we will be living with for years. It has also demonstrated how important it is that workers have a say in their own futures.