A CHARITY has called for a crackdown on bad bosses after compiling a dossier of poor practices during the pandemic. 

Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) highlighted health and safety issues, misuse of the furlough scheme and employers paying less than the legal minimum wage.

It said many frontline workers have seen their conditions worsen as a result of insecure contracts and fire and rehire tactics.

CAS said its network saw a rise in demand for employment advice over the course of the pandemic, helping people 74,994 times with queries relating to this area.

This amounted to 8 per cent of all advice provided last year, compared to 5% in 2019/20.

Elsewhere, it welcomed the UK Government’s commitment to establishing an enforcement agency to crack down on bad employers, but called for it to be prioritised and given proper funding.

Ministers previously announced plans for a new workers’ watchdog to protect the rights of UK employees. 

CAS made the comments in a submission to the Low Pay Commission, which advises the UK Government on the National Living Wage and the National Minimum Wage.

Nina Ballantyne, social justice spokeswoman at the charity, said: “The pandemic was a once in a lifetime challenge to employers, and the vast majority of them treated staff well, reacted flexibility and supported their workers, but we have seen some cases of employers behaving shamefully.

“The furlough scheme was an opportunity to support people and employers throughout the pandemic and in the main it worked really well – but some employers have misused it in various ways to the detriment of workers, or simply not used it at all.

“We appreciate this has been an incredibly difficult year for employers across industries as well as working people – but there’s no excuse to break the law and not recognise the rights working people have.

“That’s why we support proposals for an employment enforcement agency to crack down on bad bosses, but it needs to be a watchdog with teeth – given the priority and the funding it needs to do its job properly.

“If anyone is struggling with an employment issue then the CAB [Citizens Advice Bureau] network is here to help, we dealt with thousands of employment related cases last year and our advice is always free, impartial and confidential.”

In its submission, CAS detailed the experiences of workers who sought advice during the pandemic. 

It said one client in the south of Scotland, who worked at a large hotel chain, was refused furlough as their employer claimed the National Insurance would cost too much.

Another in the north of Scotland faced redundancy if she did not return to the office. CAS said the single mum struggled to organise childcare while schools were closed.

The charity told the Low Pay Commission it supported increasing the National Living Wage of £8.91 a hour to the rate of the Real Living Wage (£9.50), and abolishing different rates of pay for workers of different ages.

It said: "During Covid-19, employment rose to the third most common advice need across the Citizens Advice Scotland network, with spikes in advice on redundancy and dismissal.

"Many frontline low paid workers have seen their working conditions worsen as a result of insecure contracts and fire and hire tactics during the pandemic. 

"Better pay and conditions for these essential roles must be a cornerstone of the recovery, valuing their contribution by allowing workers a decent standard of living, financial resilience, and job security."

A UK Government spokesman said: “Protecting and enhancing workers’ rights is an absolute priority for the government, which is why we have committed to establishing a single enforcement body to protect vulnerable workers in Scotland and across the UK.

“Paying the minimum wage is a legal requirement, and we will not stand for those who fail to do so. Since 2015, we have ordered employers to repay £100m to a million workers who have been underpaid.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said it "believes all workers should be paid fairly, which is why we support payment of the real Living Wage".

He said: "The number of accredited Living Wage employers has increased from 14 in 2014 to over 2,000 in 2021 and we would encourage more businesses to sign up. More than 47,000 workers have seen pay uplifted to at least the Real Living Wage.

"We want to see better enforcement of workers’ rights and for enforcement to act as a real deterrent to unscrupulous employers. The proposed single enforcement body has the potential to make that happen, but it will need to be properly funded and resourced."