Almost two-fifths of UK employees are given less than a week’s notice of their shifts or work patterns, according to research that highlights the urgency of action to bolster job security, as well as pay.
The Living Wage Foundation found that full time, low paid workers were especially hard hit by uncertainty over their working hours — which makes it difficult to plan childcare or minimise transport costs — with 55 per cent given less than a week’s notice of their schedule, and 15 per cent less than 24 hours.
Short notice periods were especially common in London, for workers from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds and for those with children, according to the study.
“Low-paid workers have been particularly hard hit during the pandemic, with millions struggling to plan their lives due to the double whammy of changing restrictions on economic activity and insufficient notice of work schedules,” said Laura Gardiner, the campaign group’s acting chief executive.
The research also showed unpredictable working hours to be widespread in professional life, she added, with doctors, nurses and parts of the service sector especially affected. But it was “endemic” in the hospitality, retail and leisure sectors where low paid workers are clustered.
This “one-sided flexibility” — where employers require workers to be available, without guaranteeing their hours or pay — is one of many problems in the labour market that ministers have promised to address, without so far taking action.
In 2019, the government consulted on proposals to give workers a right to reasonable notice of their schedules, and compensation if shifts were cancelled without due notice. It also made a commitment to legislation giving workers a right to request a more stable contractual working pattern after 26 weeks service.
But campaigners said the employment bill that would put these policies into effect now looked unlikely to materialise before the end of the year.
The Living Wage Foundation, which has campaigned for companies to adopt a wage floor set at a more generous level than the statutory minimum, is now urging employers to commit to voluntary “Living Hours” standards. This would include giving four weeks notice of shifts, with guaranteed pay even if they are cancelled, and a minimum of 16 hours work each week for those that want it.
The energy provider SSE, insurer Aviva and asset manager Standard Life Aberdeen are among those who have signed up to the measures, covering contracted cleaning, security and catering staff as well as direct employees.
Unions said the government’s failure to bolster employment rights has left insecure workers exposed to heightened health risks, as well as greater hardship, since the start of the pandemic.
In a separate report published on Thursday, the TUC highlighted the high Covid-19 mortality rates recorded in occupations it said were “synonymous with insecure work” — including skilled trades, care, leisure and other blue collar roles. The average mortality rate for these occupations was twice as high as among managers, professionals, admin and sales staff.
It called on ministers to publish details of the employment bill in next month’s Queen’s Speech, saying it would be a “moment of truth” to establish the government’s commitment to workers’ rights.