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Know Your Rights: The stuff your boss doesn't want you to know

Regardless of work status (temporary or permanent, agency, full or part-time) or our contracts of employment, most of us have certain basic rights. These include:

1. The right to be told in writing how much and when we are to be paid.
The Minimum Wage for those over 22 years of age is set at £5.80,.  For 18-21 year olds it is £4.83 and for 16-17 year olds it is £3.57. For agency workers, wages must be paid on the agreed day, even if the hiring company has not paid the agency.

2. The right to at least 28 days paid leave per year.
Any employment contract should set out leave entitlements. If it doesn’t, then 28 days must be given (which can include public holidays). All workers, agency workers, homeworkers, trainees, so-called casuals and most freelancers are included in this. Holiday entitlement starts immediately, e.g. on day 1, we get 2 days leave, and, after 6 months, we get 14 days (for part time workers it is less, and it applies to jobs started since October 2001).

3. The right to breaks of at least 20 minutes after each 6 hours of work.
We are entitled to at least 11 hours’ rest in each 24 hours and a minimum of a day a week off. Rest breaks for under 18s are minimum 30 minutes every 4 1/2 hours.

4. The right to refuse to work any more than 48 hours each week.
We cannot be forced to work over 48 hours per week unless we have agreed to it in writing (note that this is averaged over any 17 week period, so we can be forced to do more in any one week).

5. The right to sick pay when we are ill.
We are entitled to statutory sick pay if we normally earn over £77 per week and we have been working for over 3 months (or are deemed to have been in continuous employment for 13 weeks).

6. The right to maternity/paternity leave when we have children.
From April 2003, most mothers are entitled to 26 weeks’ paid maternity leave and an additional 26 weeks’ unpaid leave. To get maternity pay, we must earn over £77 per week and have been working for over 6 months by the time the baby is 15 weeks from being due. For the first 6 weeks, this should be 90% of average earnings, then a flat rate of £100 for 20 weeks. If pay can’t be claimed, Maternity Allowance may be claimed from the DSS. Fathers/male partners get 2 weeks’ paid paternity leave (subject to the same qualifying conditions as for maternity).

7. The right to be free from harassment.
We are all entitled to a workplace where there is no racial or sexual harassment, bullying, prejudice or discrimination. Agency and part-time workers have the same rights as full-time workers.

8. The right to defend ourselves.
We all have the right to protection from dismissal for asserting our statutory employment rights. We also have the right to join with our fellow workers and organise ourselves collectively, and to join a trade union.

9. The right to refuse work that is unsafe or where training is not provided.
We all have the right to refuse to work if we find ourselves in imminent danger. Also, laws governing agencies mean they should not send us to jobs for which we are not qualified, and they must ensure that proper training is provided.

Are you safe & healthy?

The Working Time Regulations
The basic rights and protections that the Regulations provide are:
- a limit of an average of 48 hours a week which a worker can be required to work (though workers can choose to work more if they want to).
- a limit of an average of 8 hours work in 24 which nightworkers can be required to work.
- a right for night workers to receive free health assessments.
- a right to 11 hours rest a day.
- a right to a day off each week.
- a right to an in-work rest break if the working day is longer than 6 hours.
- a right to 4 weeks paid leave per year.

Health & Safety Basics

Employers should:
- Provide safe and healthy working conditions;
- Provide proper information and training for everyone in all types of workplaces;
- Draw up and circulate procedures for dealing with risks at work;
- Inform all workers of Health and Safety agreements, policies and practices before we start work.

Health and safety in the workplace costs money and time and hits profits, so bosses inevitably try to avoid their legal responsibilities. By law, they have to provide health and safety for all workers in their employment. Remember, you have a legal right to walk off the job if you feel in imminent danger.

Grievance procedures
Since 1st October 2004, all employers have had to have a disciplinary and grievance procedure, and to notify their employees of it. However since 6th April 2009, the statutory disciplinary and grievance procedures have been repealed. Although any ongoing disciplinary or grievance (here after D&G) started before that date are still covered. The original intention of making D&G procedures statutory was an expectation that claims for unfair dismissals would be significantly reduced, in fact the reverse happened with year on year per cent age increases ( last year by about 15%).

So instead ACAS have produced a Code of Practice that sets out what the features of D&G procedures should contain. The code is not legally binding and a failure to follow it will not make any dismissal arising out of a disciplinary matter automatically unfair. However the recommendation set out in the code (not applicable to redundancy dismissals or the non-renewal of fixed term contracts) will be taken into account by tribunals. Specifically, an employment tribunal will be able to adjust the amount of compensation (by up to, plus or minus 25%, which is down from the 50% previously) if it has not been reasonably followed.

Employees facing disciplinary action should be given adequate time to prepare a defence, and should have the opportunity to give and call evidence and to call witnesses. You have the right to be accompanied and for you to chose either a full-time union official (whether or not the union is recognised), a certified lay official (someone the union has trained to accompany individuals to hearings) or a workplace colleague. The worker and companion have protection against any detrimental act or dismissal in connection with excising this right of accompaniment. Hearings must be heard within a reasonable time period. The guideline steps are as follows:

1. Written  statement
You should set out your grievance in writing (often called a ‘step one letter’). Your employer’s grievance procedure should say who to send your letter to. If that’s the person causing the problem, or if they’ve ignored previous complaints, send it to the HR department or to the person’s boss.

2. Meeting
Your grievance should be looked into in a fair and unbiased way. Your employer should invite you to a meeting (sometimes called a hearing) to discuss the problem and you should attend if you can. If there is someone else involved, they might also be there (but you should tell your employer if you are uncomfortable with this). If you ask your employer beforehand, you have a legal right to take a ‘companion’ (who is a colleague or trade union representative) to the meeting with you.

3. Appeal meeting
If you’re not satisfied with the decision, or you think the procedure followed was seriously flawed, you have the right to an appeal. Your employer should give you enough time to appeal. If they don’t, make your appeal anyway, and say that you’ll provide more information later. If you are considering taking your issue to an Employment Tribunal you may want to appeal even if it seems pointless, because a tribunal award could be reduced if you don’t.

Further information on workers rights can be found at www.stuffyourboss.com

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