PR team: In-house
Campaign: Overworked? Underpaid?
Timescale: Three weeks up to Christmas
Cost: pounds 2,000
One issue near the top of the TUC’s campaigning agenda is employers’
exploitation of their workers. During the run-up to Christmas it decided
to launch an 0345 hotline for callers to air grievances about their
This was the first time the TUC had used a hotline of this kind and to
pilot the scheme the experiment was restricted to one region. The North
West was chosen because it is one of the hardest hit parts of the UK in
terms of long hours and low jobs growth.
A fundamental goal of the campaign was to identify bad employers in the
North West and expose them in the media. Through this exposure, the TUC
wanted to put the issues of low pay and the desire for new legislation
to protect workers’ rights under the media spotlight.
The 0345 hotline was the central plank of the campaign. It launched on
Monday 4 December and was operational for five days. Because the
campaign budget was so small the TUC arranged for volunteers from the
Service Workers Advisory & Action Project to help man the phone lines.
The TUC took out a number of advertisements in the region’s most
important newspapers and listings publications. These gave the hotline
number under the banner: ‘Overworked? Underpaid? Then try a different
kind of Christmas shopping. Shop your boss.’
PR was also used to raise awareness of the hotline, with the campaign
team arranging for spokespersons to be interviewed by the regional
media. A letter from TUC general secretary John Monks was also published
in a number of local newspapers on 5 and 6 December.
The team briefed editors, producers and reporters in the North West that
calls coming into the hotline would provide a first-rate source of
material and provided them with leads on interesting stories as these
came in.‘We were very clear that we actually wanted to feed stories back
to the media quickly,’ says TUC campaigns officer Frances O’Grady. ‘We
wanted to give journalists the chance to see that these stories stood up
and to encourage them to follow them up.’ The campaign also harnessed
the emotional impact of Christmas using the Scrooge metaphor to contrast
‘fat cat’ employers’ ability to buy lavish toys for their children while
many workers struggled to make ends meet.
During its five days in operation the hotline took 175 calls. There was
solid coverage in the North West media but, more surprisingly the
campaign captured the imagination of journalists outside the region as
well with exposure from, among others, the Observer, Guardian,
Independent on Sunday, Sky News, BBC Working Lunch, Radio 4, Radio 5,
GLR and even Radio Isle of Wight!
‘I couldn’t say that lots of employers have increased their paltry wages
to above our bargaining target of pounds 4 per hour, but it has put the
issue on the agenda,’ adds O’Grady.
Coverage beyond the North West was a real bonus but the number of calls
to hotline was a little disappointing.
‘I thought there might have been a bigger response,’ says Geoff Green,
the reporter who covered the campaign for the Manchester Evening News.
‘Possibly the pre-publicity was not as extensive as it might have been
- I’ve spoken to lots of people who’ve said they would have done
something if they’d known about it.’