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Work in the UK (Part One)

Last week, the news emerged that UK Home Secretary Priti Patel is being sued after allegations of unfair dismissal from a former staff member.

It certainly isn't the first time that senior political figures in the UK have come under fire from their employees, but this isn't just something that just exists in the political sphere.

Over the past 50 years, the practice of 'whistle-blowing' has become a norm within the typical UK workplace. Far from being a negative reflection of Britain's work environment, most would consider this to be a wholly positive practice, promoting transparency and democracy within UK companies.

For this week's edition of Life in the UK, we'll be taking a good look at what it's really like to work for a British company - including what is expected of management, and the rights of the worker.

Who is classified as a 'worker'?

Anyone with a contract or verbal arrangement in which they agree to do work in exchange for a reward is a worker. This reward can be money - in the form of a fixed salary or rate of pay - or a benefit in kind, such as the promise of future work or a contract.

Employers are required to provide work for them for the duration of the contract period. If this is a particularly hefty workload, a worker may have a limited right to subcontract someone else to assist them.

And, most importantly, the worker has to attend work for as long as their contract stipulates - even if they don't want to!

What rights does a worker have?

There are a variety of rights that apply to different types of workers across industry. However, certain core rights apply to every worker, and many of them took decades - or even centuries - of campaigning to be put in place.

The first and perhaps most vital is the provision of the National Minimum Wage. This ensures that, by law, companies are required to pay at least a basic minimum rate for any work conducted by their employees.

National Minimum Wage (April 2020)

Workers must be of school leaving age (16) to receive the National Minimum Wage for their age bracket. For those aged 25 and over, the National Living Wage applies: as you can see from the table above, this is a higher rate that applies for older workers to ensure that they have enough money to live and work independently. There is also legal protection against unlawful deductions of wage.

Aside from wage-based protections, there are also a number of rights that encourage transparency and equality within the workplace. All employees have the basic right to be protected from any sort of discrimination, including discrimination against 'whistle-blowing': this means that workers are free (even encouraged in some cases) to critique their management when things are going wrong.

In some countries, this may be unthinkable - what senior management decree is the law of the workplace. But in the UK, it is important that even the most powerful figures can be held to account, and considered in equal stead to their employees. Perhaps that's why we always see senior MPs looking miserable on the tube with the rest of London's commuters...

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair looking dismayed as he'd just missed his stop (BBC)
Boris Johnson on Tube
Prime Minister Boris Johnson being uncharacteristically jolly on a packed train (BBC)
David Cameron Riding Tube
Sources claim that David Cameron was almost definitely looking at dog videos during this commute (BBC)

Finally, there are a number of rights based around the time and number of hours a worker may be required to work. As a general rule, workers are not permitted to work more than 48 hours per week: however, if some wish to work more than this, they are permitted as long as they have the option to 'opt-out' at any time. They are also afforded the statutory amount of paid holiday and a set number of breaks per day, both of which depend on hours worked.

For example, most workers who work standard 'full time' jobs (9am - 5:30pm, Monday to Friday) will receive around 28 days of paid holiday a year, as well as a 1-hour break each day.

Where did these rights come from?

As the birthplace of the industrial revolution, Britain has a rich history of labour movements and campaigns for worker's rights. If you're eager to learn more, join us for next week's edition of Life in the UK, where we'll be taking a look at a brief history of labour laws in the UK!

To learn more about worker's rights in the UK today, check out this simple guide from Gov.UK.

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