The Unpaid Britain Project was set up to examine the non-payment of wages in Britain, with a particular focus on London. It was jointly funded by Trust for London and Middlesex University Business School. For the purpose of this study, we consider failure to pay, on time, the contractually agreed sum for work done to constitute unpaid wages. Contractual agreement is taken to include minimum legal guarantees such as National Minimum Wage, holiday pay in line with the Working Time Regulations, and statutory pay such as sick pay (SSP), maternity pay (SMP), paternity pay (SPP) and adoption pay (SAP). Work is also taken to include “self-employment”.
Other forms of unpaid time such as work experience, volunteering, family work, unpaid internships and additional hours worked by salaried staff are not included in this study, although they are clearly related. This relationship will be the focus, however, of a later discussion paper.
Unpaid Britain considered the right to a wage in a historical, legislative and international context, and the significance of its breach. We have begun to investigate the scale, distribution, trends, causes and costs to workers, their families and the state, of non-payment of wages in Britain, focusing predominantly on London, but data and case studies from other parts of Britain will also be examined.
The first stage of the project ran until October 2017, and a major conference on the findings took place in November 2018 – some of the participants comments can still be found on Twitter at #unpaidbritain.
We are using mixed methods. In addition to examining official datasets such as the Labour Force Survey, and administrative data from Citizens Advice and ACAS, we are going to be developing our own set of data on cases involving unpaid wages and holiday pay from records held at the Employment Tribunal registry of judgements. Using academic and “grey” literature, data and Key Informant interviews, we propose to develop a typology of non-payment. This, in turn will be used to identify case studies illustrative of the various types of non-payment. Based on documentary sources and semi structured interviews, we hope these case studies will help us to gain a detailed understanding of the forces at play when workers find themselves unpaid. The relevance and efficacy of means of redress for those workers will be examined (that is to say how easily they can obtain the money they are owed), and this will also be informed by casework diaries completed by several advisors and representatives during the course of the project.
Many findings and progress of this research will be written on this blog, whose aim is to display our research and increase awareness of the issues of non-payment. But it is also intended to provide a platform for discussion of the phenomenon itself and worker’s experience of it.
A second phase, examining the experience of Middlesex students who work during their studies began in February 2020, with an online survey followed by interviews and focus groups. A link to the summary report of this pilot project was placed on the blog in 2020.
This has led us to establish a network of researchers interested in the growth and significance of the student-worker, in particular their experiences of workplace abuse. Working under the collective title “Proper Jobs?” we will be posting blogs on this theme throughout 2021.
Project Staff & the ‘Proper Jobs?’ network
The project is led by Nick Clark, who has a long career in trade unions and research into the world of work. He was one of the original board members of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority. Assisting in the research and administration of the project was Eva Herman, shortly after she completed her Masters in Labour, Social Movements and Development at SOAS. Eva is now working on her PhD at the Work & Equalities Institute Manchester University.
We were guided by an Advisory Group consisting of academics and practitioners in the field.
For the 2020 phase, Nick Clark was joined by Dr Janroj Keles and Dr Bianca Stumbitz from Middlesex, and Dr Jamie Woodcock from the Open University. They were assisted by Marwa Hariai, a second year undergraduate student at Middlesex.
The ‘Proper Jobs?’ network also includes Prof Tessa Wright (QMUL); Prof Lee Anne Fenge & Dr Mel Hughes (Bournemouth University); Dr Kristinn Hermannsson & Dr Ele Kirk (University of Glasgow); Eva Herman (Manchester University) & Dr Elsa Oommen (Warwick University).
Nick Clark N.Clark@mdx.ac.uk +44 (0)20 8411 4015