A report by the advice body found that legal rights are, in effect, “useless without effective enforcement mechanisms and professional support to navigate a complex system” - neither of which is available at present.
Around eight per cent of the enquiries dealt with by Citizens Advice Sheffield between January and June this year were solely or predominantly about employment rights - 552 in total.
Its research found that often, people do not know their rights, such as their right to join a trade union or to be accompanied in a grievance meeting; employers are withholding contractual documents or failing to tell people what type of contract they are on; employers can become “elusive and uncommunicative” when people raise issues; and problems stemming from insecure employment result in real hardship beyond the workplace.
They spoke to a range of people seeking help, and were told in several cases that people who had found work through agencies only discovered they were being treated as self-employed when issues arose with sick pay, unpaid wages or lack of holiday pay. Others only discovered they were on zero hours contracts when they were not given shifts.
Citizens Advice Sheffield’s lead on research and campaigns, Frances Potter, said: “There is too much responsibilty on the shoulders of individuals to battle away for themselves, which is not just unfair for the employees, but for the employers who do play by the rules.
“Why should anyone have to approach a new job on the defensive? They just want to make a living.
“Without the ability to inflict your rights, there is no point in having them.”
Citizens Advice Sheffield is calling on the Government to “remedy the unfairness revealed”, in part by creating a Fair Work Authority to act on individuals’ behalf, providing early resolution of problems and deterring employers from poor practice.
It is also calling on “anchor institutions” in Sheffield, such as the council, NHS and the universities to insist on ethical employment practices among their supplies and contractors.
Other recommendations include better support for people who want to take action; a “Fair Trade-style” campaign in the city to harness public spending power in favour of ethical employment practices; and local enforcement of the National Minimum Wage.
Chief executive, Andy Buck said: “Our investigation wholeheartedly endorses the view that unless people have the means to enforce their employment rights, these rights will be of limited value. We are calling on the Government to do more to make sure people have access to employment justice.”