The past week was a sad one for migrant workers in the UK. On Tuesday morning, we heard the awful news of the murder of Arkadiusz Jozwik, 40, in Harlow. Reports say he was attacked for speaking Polish.
It is another terrible indicator of the rise in racism and xenophobia in the wake of the Brexit. We must however transform our outrage into determination that the week ahead will become a decisive one in the struggle for migrant workers’ rights.
Sports Direct, which has been making headlines over the last year for the appalling working practices both in its warehouses(where most of its workers are Eastern European migrants) and shops, has its annual shareholder meeting on Wednesday. Now is the time to take action for migrant workers’ rights and against the precarious contracts that mean workers feel unable to challenge abuse in the workplace.
Major investment groups, not usually concerned with workers’ rights, are getting behind a resolution tabled by Unite the Union to their shareholders’ meeting to conduct an independent inquiry into working conditions at the UK’s largest sports retailer. Earlier this summer, an investigation by MPs found Sports Direct was treating their workers as commodities not human beings. With MPs expecting answers from the company before the end of September, the pressure is on for Sports Direct to change its ways.
Sports Direct is emblematic of the economy-wide shift to precarious contracts that means as many as 4.5 million workers are on some form of insecure contract, unable to plan their lives or support their families as their hours and schedules are unpredictable. Other employers will be watching to see what happens. If we stop them we can help stop a race to the bottom where all workers will lose out.
Migrant workers make up the majority of workers at Sports Direct’s warehouse; many are recruited in Eastern Europe. They often face the worst working conditions, including precarious contracts, which can mean the fear of losing future work leaves them unable to challenge abusive bullying behaviour.
It’s the too often the same for women workers, conditioned to shut up regardless of the abuse and discrimination they are forced to endure. Earlier in the summer the Women’s and Equalities select committee of MPs found that rising discrimination against pregnant women and mothers at work was explained by the increasing numbers of women who are on precarious contracts.
Agency workers, such as the majority of Sports Direct warehouse staff, are not entitled to the same maternity protection as other workers. It brings to mind the case of the woman worker who came to work at Sports Direct’s Shirebrook warehouse, whilst in labour, fearing losing future work. She ended up giving birth in the toilets.
Now is the time to demand an end to precarious contracts. If we stop Sports Direct in its tracks, and demand MPs stand with migrant workers and act now to end precarious contracts, we can build a society where everyone, including women and migrant workers, is assured dignity at work, a living wage and the protection of a trade union in the workplace.
If we all take small actions we can create a wave of protest that is unstoppable. When we come together we are powerful. War on Want supporters have long been at the forefront of struggles for workers’ rights.
The precarious nature of work and its consequences has been on the rise since the mid-1970s, corresponding with a weakening of trade unions, deregulation and free market economics. Forty years ago, Asian women workers challenged abuse in their workplace, Grunwick, a photo processing plant in Willesden, north west London. They decided to fight against the racist and sexist abuse they suffered in the workplace and for the right to have a trade union represent them. War on Want supported their struggle together with workers and trade unionists up and down the country in what was one of the longest and most bitter labour struggles in British history. Today we must do the same for Sports Direct workers.
Solidarity is our weapon and this week is a time where we must act and give new life to the old labour slogan “an injury to one is an injury to all”. Together, let’s stand with migrant workers and end precarious contracts.
By Owen Espley, Senior Economic Justice Campaigner, War on Want