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Violation Tracker UK: Empowering workers through data

Violation Tracker UK is the UK’s first wide-ranging database collating data of where companies have broken regulations. In this blog ahead of her Saturday morning workshop at the New Organisers Conference, Maia Kirby from Good Jobs First looks at how this new platform could put power back in workers’ hands and pave the road towards workers’ justice. 

When businesses talk about regulation, it is usually to complain about what they see as an unnecessary burden. But for workers, regulations act as essential protections, for example by guaranteeing safety on the job and proper wages.  


These protections only help workers if they are enforced. Fragmentation of enforcement bodies, gaps in the regulatory system, agency funding cuts, and a reliance on individual workers to take action through employment tribunals, means that legislation designed to protect working standards often fails to do its job


By collecting regulatory enforcement data through Violation Tracker UK, the UK’s first wide-ranging database of corporate regulatory infringements, we hope to put power back into workers hands, so they can demand better. 


When poor employment practices remain in the dark, companies face little to no incentive to abide by the law. Employment tribunal data often shows evidence of systemic breaches by large companies, whether it be in unlawful deductions of wages or multiple cases of discrimination. Cataloguing these breaches through the tracker can make it easier for workers to campaign publicly around issues, put pressure on employers to improve standards, and take control of the narrative to fight for stronger regulation. 


The breadth of our data coverage provides a picture of where regulations are working and where they are not. This itself is a call to action. As environmental campaigners have turned to regulators to ask why sewage is being dumped in record quantities in our waterways, we must turn to employment regulators to ask why so many workers are paid below the minimum wage. Why are flagrant systemic breaches not being dealt with by a single enforcement body, and why are so many workers using foodbanks and suffering poor health where employers have failed to provide them with fair pay, safe conditions, and dignity in the workplace?  


Analysis of the data shows that highly unionised sectors are more likely to bring successful employment tribunals. We know that the hoops to jump through, the limitations on what can be brought, the tribunal backlog and the many hours it takes to put together a case, mean workers often do not get justice through the courts. Our data also shows that very few are getting justice through other employment regulators such as the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate.  


Nonetheless the information we do have allows us to put together something of a picture of employers’ patterns of behaviour, and makes it possible to hold companies accountable for their non-compliance. Far too often a company’s reputation remains intact despite a dire track record on Violation Tracker UK. Companies are often lauded for good work practices based on what they say they do, rather than solid evidence of what they are doing.  


Data can give us graphs and charts. It can tell us that Sainsbury’s and Tesco have been named and shamed multiple times for failure to pay the minimum wage, and that the Royal Mail, Tesco, BT, Asda and Mitie, have lost a combined total of more than 200 employment tribunals since 2017. Employment Tribunal data can also provide deeply moving testimony of a worker’s experience in a workplace. This is where we need to amplify voices, whether through campaigns, or through the media. We can use employment tribunal evidence to examine whether the laws and existing system are enough to protect workers. We need to think creatively about how we use these stories to change the narrative; to centre people and lived experience first. 


Good Jobs First will be teaming up with Fair Work at the New Organising Conference this year to explore how we can use Violation Tracker UK and Fair Work’s action-research methodology to campaign for fairer working conditions. We hope to see you there! 

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