We want to do everything we can to provide a service that is accessible to those who need us most. This is why every week at the Employment Rights Clinic our advisers walk new clients through a comprehensive needs-assessment survey, and take the time to carefully monitor the progress of past cases.
The data helps us learn more about our clients and their employment issues. It documents our work to help our partners understand what we do, and monitors our outcomes to enable us to assess our impact, and improve our service. All data is collected, stored, and processed in accordance with the General Data Protection Regulations 2018, and all figures are updated quarterly.
The Work Rights Centre opened the first Employment Rights Clinic in the London Borough of Brent in June 2016. We began by offering 4 hours of pro bono casework a week, then gradually increased our service to 6 hours in September 2017, and 20 hours a year later, as we were able to secure more funding. From January 2019 we have been trying to establish the same model in Manchester. To date, we are happy to have assisted 503 clients, including 471 in London, and 31 in Manchester. The increase in numbers reflects the additional hours we have been able to provide.
The majority of our clients experienced an employment rights issue such as unlawful deductions of wages, non-payment, or unfair dismissal. The second most common issue was related to employability, such as the inability to translate one’s skills into adequate employment, followed by social security, or the inability to access work-related benefits such as tax credits. It is important to note that precarious work often overspills into other areas of life. A number of clients approached us with multiple issues which straddled employment rights, housing, and social security.
Solving these issues takes time. The figure below illustrates some of the steps we help our clients take in their journeys to employment justice. We always begin by providing information. We also spend time contacting employers and drafting Letters before Action and Grievance Letters when needed. At times, we assist clients in formalising their work arrangements by coaching them on how to draft invoices and timesheets. In instances when we are not able to solve a case alone, we signpost to other organisations. In every case however, we pride ourselves in valuing depth over expediency.
We also work hard to address issues of employability. Our advisers provided hands-on support with drafting CVs, writing cover letters, and using job search strategies, but also referred clients to English language classes and other forms of training which can improve their professional mobility more broadly.
The majority of our clients are active in elementary occupations. Construction was the most highly represented sector, followed by hospitality and delivery, and a range of other manual positions.
Most of them were self-employed, reflecting the gradual and much contested introduction of this work arrangement in construction and other manual occupations. It is important to observe that for a section of our clients, the status was unclear or visibly informal. Given the intrinsic connection between employment protections and status, the absence of a clear status is a potential marker of precarity.
A significant proportion of our clients were also engaged in work arrangements with a low degree of formality. Over a third of them did not have written confirmation of payment, which come in the form of a payslip for those employed, or an invoice for the self-employed. A similar rate of informality characterised their access to written terms of agreement and the mod of payments.
It is important to note that while this does not constitute an illegality, and the law makes it clear that the absence of written terms does not preclude the right to employment protections, informal work arrangements can make it harder to build a case. This is particularly salient in disputes over non-payment, which comprised the majority of our employment rights cases.