The Trades Union Congress (TUC) has launched a campaign to find today’s equivalent of Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge, the boss who made his clerk Bob Cratchit work late nights up until Christmas Eve.
The TUC’s top ten Scrooge-like traits include:
- 1. Making staff work on Christmas bank holidays or lose pay: Contrary to popular opinion, there’s no legal right to bank holidays, though most people have this in their contract. Some bosses even close the business on bank holidays, forcing staff to miss a day’s work and pay.
- 2. Counting Christmas bank holidays as part of annual leave: There’s a minimum of 20 days’ paid annual leave, but a minority of bosses count bank holidays as part of this minimum, rather than in addition to it. This legal loophole lets some employers get away with in effect only allowing 12 days’ annual leave a year.
- 3. Keeping the office freezing to save on heating costs: There is a minimum legal temperature of 16°C in workplaces (13°C for active and strenuous work). Below this, staff should be allowed to go somewhere warmer, or go home.
- 4. Dictating Christmas leave arrangements at short notice:
- 5. Banning workplace relationships that start at the Christmas party: Many relationships start at work; not surprising perhaps, as people spend so much of their time there! Although this rarely causes serious problems, some employers have blanket policies to ban workplace relationships.
- 6. Not allowing parents flexitime to see their kids’ nativity play: There is no statutory right to have time off for this kind of occasion, and around 40% of workers don’t normally have any scope for flexibility in their hours. Most bosses allow their workers some leeway at Christmas, but a small minority lack the Christmas spirit.
- 7. Not allowing Christmas decorations at work: Some bosses use the argument that it’s a health and safety risk, and others say it makes the workplace look unprofessional.
- 8. Not paying the minimum wage for temporary Christmas jobs: A lot of companies take on extra staff to work in the busy run-up to Christmas. Most people are entitled to the national minimum wage, but some employers may wrongly claim jobs are exempt, particularly for younger workers, for whom a minimum wage is still a new right (£3.00 an hour for 16-18 year olds).
- 9. Making people work late over Christmas: This is a time when most workers want to spend more time with their families, but many workplaces suffer from a long hours culture, with staff often putting in the equivalent of an extra day a week in unpaid overtime.
- 10. Cancelling Christmas parties on safety or compensation grounds: A recent survey found more than seven in 10 employers had cut traditional staff parties, rather than run the risk of litigation over accidents or sexual harassment.
Some workplaces are very busy around Christmas, and bosses may want to rule out annual leave requests to ensure continual coverage. However, if they want to do this they need to give staff notice of at least the same period they want to rule out. Other firms find work dries up between Christmas and New Year, so some compel staff to take the time off, even if they would rather save their leave for another time. For this, staff should be given notice of at least twice the period they have to take as leave.
TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: “In Charles Dickens’ story, Britain’s meanest boss was won round after he was shown the error of his ways. So if you’re working for a Scrooge too, be like the ghost of Christmas present and tell us what’s really going on – let’s try and get a happy working Christmas for each and everyone.”
Employees can share their stories at www.worksmart.org.uk