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News Study exposes why Sheffield is “the low pay capital of the UK”

Researchers from Staffordshire University contribute to important study for Sheffield TUC “Sheffield Needs a Pay Rise Campaign (SNAP)”

The study was completed for the “Sheffield Needs a Pay Rise Campaign (SNAP)”
Image: The study was completed for the “Sheffield Needs a Pay Rise Campaign (SNAP)”

We have been able to draw important lessons from the Sheffield findings in terms of our recent and ongoing research for the Stoke-on-Trent Hardship Commission, particularly in relation to the impact of the corona crisis on employment insecurity and social inequality.

Professor David Etherington

In major new research released today, on low pay and insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic, Staffordshire University academics Professor Martin Jones and Professor David Etherington - along with colleagues from Sheffield Hallam and Manchester Metropolitan Universities - have exposed the factors making Sheffield City Region “the low pay capital of the UK”.

The researchers highlight how the same reasons heighten and exacerbate the impact of the COVID pandemic on Sheffield workers who struggle to enforce even basic rights including around health and safety.

Despite these factors overlapping in Sheffield, the researchers highlight the innovative approaches trade unions have developed to address the rights and pay shortfalls experienced by an estimated 185,000 of Sheffield City Region’s workers.

The researchers say the approaches being developed by Sheffield trade unions could provide a model for addressing labour market weakness as the UK tries to build back better from the COVID pandemic.

Professor Martin Jones said: “Our involvement with this collaborative study came about from Economic and Social Research Council funded research on devolution and disadvantaged in the Sheffield City Region, which raised a number of issues around the impact of austerity on social and economic inequalities”.

Professor David Etherington added: “We have been able to draw important lessons from the Sheffield findings in terms of our recent and ongoing research for the Stoke-on-Trent Hardship Commission, particularly in relation to the impact of the corona crisis on employment insecurity and social inequality”.

Dr Bob Jeffery one of the lead researchers from Sheffield Hallam University said: “Despite obstacles and a hostile legislative environment created by central government, trade unions in Sheffield are innovating and adapting to the conditions and finding new ways to address low pay in the city. These innovations could provide a route for the UK out of this pandemic with a stronger labour market that reduces workers’ and their families’ vulnerability to shocks and respects workers basic rights”.

The research explores low pay and precarity across a range of sectors, noting that various forms of ‘wage theft’, lack of access to basic employment rights such as access to sick pay, and a range of harms including poor health and safety, and bullying and harassment, might be concentrated in sectors such as retail and hospitality, but are increasingly also found in social care, logistics and even education.

Rohan Kon, lead organiser with Sheffield Needs a Payrise, said:: “At Sheffield Needs a Payrise our model of worker-led community organising is winning victory after victory as workers realise the power they have when they come together to take action and the whole community comes out in support. Workers in the campaign have been winning in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. So if you suffer low pay, now is the time to join our campaign”.

The research was commissioned by Sheffield Trades Council and completed by Dr Peter Thomas (Sheffield Hallam University), Prof David Etherington (Staffordshire University), Dr Bob Jeffery (Sheffield Hallam University), Dr Ruth Beresford (Sheffield Hallam University), Dr David Beel (Manchester Metropolitan University), and Prof Martin Jones (Staffordshire University)

The research will be presented in a virtual event on Wednesday 29 July at 7pm – register here.

The full report ‘Tackling Labour Market Injustice and Organising Workers: The view from a Northern Heartland’ is available here

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