Two-tier workforce

  • Key facts

    A two-tier workforce is when one group of workers receives lower wages or fewer benefits than others doing the same job.

    • This can happen when public sector employees are moved to the private sector and new employees start work with worse pay and conditions .
    • staf who have been transferred are protected by TUPE and the Principles of Good Employment Practice. Find out more about TUPE. 
    • In Scotland, a protocol between the government and unions aims to prevent the  two-tier workforce.
  • Your question

    Is it fair that I'm paid less than a colleague who was in the public sector?

    UNISON believes it's not fair. A 2003 code of practice provided for new workers to have "no less favourable terms" – but this no longer the law and has been replaced by voluntary Principles of Good Employment.

    Get in touch with your UNISON rep for advice. You can also call UNISON Direct on 0800 0 857 857.

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On this page:

Two-tier workforce: an introduction
Why do public sector employees sometimes end up working for the private sector?
The disadvantages of a two-tier workforce
Who is most commonly affected?
The two-tier workforce and the law
Next steps for UNISON reps

Two-tier workforce: an introduction

A two-tier workforce may be created when employees are transferred from the public sector (local government, the NHS etc) to the private sector (a profit-making company) and new employees get worse pay and conditions than those workers transferred from the public sector – leading to two tiers of pay and conditions.

This means there are effectively two classes of workers, working together on the same contract, one of whom gets less favourable pay and benefits.


Why do public sector employees sometimes end up working for the private sector?

Workers are often moved from the public to the private sector when the services they provide are outsourced.


The disadvantages of a two-tier workforce

The disadvantages of a two-tier workforce include:

  • workers performing the same tasks being treated differently by employers;
  • worse morale which may have affect service quality;
  • wages being driven down for everyone;
  • high turnover of staff, particularly among less well paid, newer employees.


Who is most commonly affected?

While all kinds of workers in all kinds of jobs can find themselves part of a two-tier workforce, women and low-paid workers are two groups that are most frequently affected.


The two-tier workforce and the law

Local and central government employees transferring from the public sector have their pay and conditions protected by regulations known as TUPE, or the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations of 2006 to give them their full name.

In Northern Ireland, there are additional provisions called the Service Provision Change (Protection of Employment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006.

Read more about TUPE.

In 2010, the government got rid of the Code of Practice on Workforce Matters in Public Service Contracts, better known as the two-tier workforce code. and replaced it with six Principles of Good Employment Practice. These principles are supported by government, but they are voluntary.

One principle states that when a "supplier" - or private sector company - employs new recruits who work alongside former public sector workers, they should have fair and reasonable pay, terms and conditions.

The principles encourage consultation with trade unions on workforce training and development issues.

They also highlight that contracting organisations should make sure that supplier policies and processes are compliant with the Equality Act (similar issues are addressed in Northern Ireland by section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998).

See our section on equality duties.


Next steps for UNISON reps

UNISON wants to reduce differences in the wages of workers doing similar jobs. The union has proposed a fair wages resolution as a solution to the two-tier workforce, which could define national rates of pay for different types of work.

Make sure you are familiar with the points of the Principles of Good Employment Practice and use the UNISON bargaining support tools available online.

Need more information?

Request information or make a general enquiry.

Complete the general enquiry form

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Legal disclaimer

The information contained within this article is not a complete or final statement of the law and is based on the laws of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. While UNISON has sought to ensure that the information is accurate and up to date, it is not responsible and will not be held liable for any inaccuracies and their consequences, including any loss arising from relying on this information. If you are a UNISON member with a legal problem, please contact your branch or region as soon as possible for advice.