UNIONS are warning of a return to Poldark working conditions as tens of thousands of people in Somerset are caught up in "insecure work".

If things continue as they are, Britain risks slipping back to 19th century employment conditions, the South West TUC claims.

It says there are approximately 354,000 people - 67,000 of them in Somerset - in insecure work across the region. The figures include self-employed people earning less than the minimum wage, agency workers and zero hours contract workers.

Workers are still facing the longest pay squeeze for 200 years, with wages still not recovered since the financial crash, according to the TUC.

It says that unless the balance of power is reset in the workplace, economic inequality and insecure work will continue to get worse.

It highlights that between 1945 and 1975 the share of economic output going to wages was 57% - that dropped to just 49% in 2018.

In this time, anti-trade union laws and industrial change have caused union membership and collective bargaining coverage to fall - from 54% and over 70% in 1979 to just 23% and 26% respectively in 2018, the TUC says.

It comes as new analysis reveals that unsecured debt has risen to record levels, with one in five families stuck in problem debt.

The TUC says that increasing the number of workers covered by collective bargaining agreements is the best way to raise wages and improve conditions.

It has published new proposals to increase trade union coverage, including:

•unions having access to all workplaces to tell workers about the benefits of trade union membership.

•new rights to make it easier for working people to negotiate collectively with their employers, on issues that go beyond pay such as workload, stress and family-friendly rights.

•sectoral collective bargaining – the establishment of new mandatory joint bodies for unions and employers to negotiate pay, conditions and training for all employees working in a specific sector.

The TUC is also calling for:

•a £10 National Minimum Wage.

•a ban on zero hours contracts, and a crackdown on insecure work.

South West TUC Regional Secretary Nigel Costley said: “We’re at risk of going back to the days of Poldark – when workers were at the beck and call of bosses, not knowing when or how much they’d be paid, and very few rights and protections.

“Too many workers have no control and no voice at work, with increasing numbers stuck on low pay, zero-hours contracts, or in sham self-employment.

“We urgently need to reset the balance of power in our economy and give people more of a say about what happens to them at work.

“Collective bargaining is the best way to raise wages and improve working conditions – so let’s expand it across the whole workforce.”