Living wage activists reveal scheme fighting poor pay and insecure hours

Living Hours employers must commit to providing four weeks' notice of shifts and a guaranteed minimum of 16 hours' work a week

Workers’ rights campaigners are launching a major new programme asking companies to pay well, guarantee shift patterns and give employees contracts which accurately reflect how long they work.

The Living Wage Foundation (LWF) is behind the Living Hours scheme, according to which organisations can be accredited for their practices – just like the successful Living Wage initiative, of which some FTSO 100 companies are already a part.

Employers will have to commit to providing workers with at least four weeks’ notice of shifts, a contract that accurately reflects hours worked and a guaranteed minimum of 16 hours’ work a week – as well as paying the real Living Wage.

It’s hoped the scheme is a “practical solution” that will tackle insecurity over hours and “provide workers with real control over their lives” instead of facing cancelled shifts and a lack of stable hours.

Phillip, who works at a national delivery service, said“I worked on a zero hours contract for four years where I had no rights, didn’t get holidays and had to work back the time for any bank holidays taken.

“I have three small children to look after and not knowing my shift patterns until a week before made it difficult to plan time together and organise childcare. Now I’ve moved on to a permanent contract that reflects my hours I feel more valued by my employer and can plan ahead to put money aside.”

New research commissioned by the LWF revealed that one in six – more than five million workers – are stuck in low-paid, insecure work like short-term contracts with little option but to accept unpredictable pay and hours. Two million of them are parents, and people from BAME backgrounds are disproportionately affected.

A former theme park worker, who wishes to remain anonymous, said: “Our rota for the week was sent out on Sunday evenings and, with shifts regularly changing, I couldn’t plan my week and always felt that I had to be available to work.

A shift cancelled at the last minute can be the difference between dinner that night or going hungry

“If the weather was bad or suddenly turned, the theme park would be closed and everyone sent home. Sometimes this meant giving up a whole day but only being paid for an hours’ work, or not at all, which didn’t even cover my bus fare to work.”

The figures also showed that workers in Wales, the North East and East Midlands were most likely to experience low pay and insecurity.

Some Living Wage employers have signed up to the scheme already including SSE, Standard Life Aberdeen and Richer Sounds.

The LWF estimates that its Living Wage efforts put almost £1bn extra into the pockets of more than 200,000 workers, but said pay is not the only driver of in-work poverty.

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Katherine Chapman, LWF director, said: “Constant uncertainty over the number of hours, timings of your shifts or the amount of pay you’ll get each week places people under enormous pressure. A shift cancelled at the last minute might sound small, but it can be the difference between being able to pay for your family’s dinner that night or going hungry. And being expected to work at short notice means you can’t plan around other costs and commitments.

We’ve consulted with hundreds of workers, employers and trade unions in drawing up these measures to ensure they are ambitious but achievable. We believe Living Hours will provide an important new measure to fight in-work poverty and to provide workers and their families with stability and security.”