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Employment

More than a third of workers given less than a week’s notice of their hours

Uncertainty around hours was forcing workers to make "impossible choices" on childcare and family life

People who did shift work, such as hospitality workers, were most likely to get short notice of their hours

People who did shift work, such as hospitality workers, were most likely to get short notice of their hours. Image: Pexels

Nearly two in five working Brits – around 10 million people – are given their shifts or work patterns less than a week in advance, “outrageous” figures have revealed, with those on low incomes dealing with the most precarity at work.

A total seven per cent of all working adults in the UK were given less than 24 hours’ notice of their shifts, the Living Wage Foundation study showed, highlighting concerns that people on low pay have less ability to plan their lives due to the uncertainty of their work.

While those who did shift work or had variable working patterns – such as in hospitality or retail – were most impacted, research showed the short-notice trend creeping into other, higher paid professions.

“It is outrageous,” Seema Malhotra, shadow employment minister, told The Big Issue. “Regular and reliable hours are essential in allowing workers to plan their finances and family life.

“The Conservatives have weakened our economy with insecure work leaving many people in unstable, low paid jobs. We cannot go back to what we had before, we need a secure economy with high quality jobs and regular hours.”

The research did not take into account workers in the gig economy, who are given zero-hour contracts and never guaranteed shifts week to week.

But for part and full-time staff, short notice periods were particularly common in London, where nearly half (48 per cent) of all workers were given less than seven days’ notice of their schedules.

That compared to 35 per cent of workers in Scotland and 33 per cent in the North of England.

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Millions of workers have had to “make impossible choices on childcare, transport and other important aspects of family life,” said Laura Gardiner, director of the Living Wage Foundation.

“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 from employers.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, which sets minimum wage policy, said: “We are determined to tackle unfair working practices, while ensuring that everyone can enjoy the benefits of flexible working patterns.

“The Government has consulted on introducing compensation for short-notice shift cancellations and a right to reasonable notice of shifts. We are analysing these responses, and will respond in due course.”

Paying workers the real living wage as well as ensuring they are given fair notice of their hours are “practical ways” for businesses to help cut poverty as the country emerges from lockdown, according to Peter Kelly, director of the Poverty Alliance.

Researchers gathered evidence through two surveys, which questioned more than 2,000 adults each, to investigate what the Living Wage Foundation called “a gap in the UK’s labour market data”.

People in full-time but poorly paid jobs were most affected by hours insecurity, with up to 55 per cent of people paid below the “real” living wage (£10.85 per hour in London, £9.50 per hour elsewhere) reporting less than a week’s notice of their shift times. This rose to 64 per cent among workers with children.

Meanwhile 68 per cent of low-paid workers from Black, Asian and minority ethnic background groups received their schedules less than a week in advance.

People working in pubs and restaurants were hardest hit by hours insecurity, but were also most likely to have been furloughed during the Covid-19 crisis

“The amount of pay employees take home can be affected by irregular and unpredictable hours,” said John Stewart, HR director for SSE. The company has recently committed to a scheme giving employees at least four weeks’ notice of shifts plus guaranteed payment if hours are cancelled within that time period.

“It is right that a company like SSE … should guarantee higher standards for workers,” he added.

“This is fundamental to ensuring there is a fair and just transition to net zero [greenhouse gas emissions].”

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