It’s a very different world that we live in today compared to our parents’ generation where many people would stay in the same job, and even the same organisation, for their whole working lives. Gone are the days of a gold watch for many decades of sterling service and the reassuring certainty of a job for life and guaranteed pension when we retire.
In fact, it’s now more and more common for people to have a series of different jobs as they move through their working lives and enjoy a “portfolio” career. Add to this the gradual phasing out of final salary pension schemes as well as the perceived desire of employers to rely on younger and cheaper staff to take the place of older, and more expensive, people and it can paint quite a grim picture of employment.
But, of course, nothing is ever quite as black and white as it seems. For example the greater fluidity in the labour market works to create more opportunities and even to offer the chance of accelerated career progression.
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It would also be very unfair to say that all employers are determined to exploit their workers for maximum profit as the great majority appreciate that the best results for everyone can be achieved by co-operation.
But that’s not to say that, as an employee, you shouldn’t be fully aware of your rights in a job and the ways in which you can make sure they’re respected.
Wherever you work, and whatever business you’re in, you and your employer will have expectations of each other. For example, you’ll be expected to fulfil all the tasks outlined in your job description, to follow all of the organisation’s rules and procedures and to comply with all the relevant policies.
You, on the other hand, can expect your employer to pay you regularly, to supply you with the tools and facilities you need to do your job, to provide a safe working environment and to help you develop your career. Usually both parties’ expectations are met – and sometimes even exceeded – but it’s when they are not that problems are likely to occur.
Because this is an article about workers’ rights we’ll only look at this from the employee’s perspective when he or she feels that they are being exploited or treated badly by their employer.
When rights go wrong
The first step is always to make your feelings known, either directly to your employer or via a line manager. Very often this will open a dialogue and lead to a mutually acceptable solution.
Where this doesn’t seem possible, then joining a union is another possibility. Even though numbers of union members have been on a steady decline for the last few decades there are still some very good reasons to consider joining one if your rights seem under threat. Union members know that they have a strong voice to represent them and to try to ensure that they are treated fairly. What’s more it is everyone’s right to join the union of their choice without discrimination, unfair treatment or the threat of dismissal.
If matters are really serious, for example if you feel that you’ve been unfairly dismissed for any reason, then the ultimate step is to take your case to an employment tribunal. Recent legislation has also been introduced that means before any hearing at a tribunal both parties must try to reach an agreement using the services of the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS).
So if you do feel that you’re not being fairly treated at work, don’t despair. There are a number of routes open to you and all could have a role to play in making working life better – both for you and your employer.