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Employment

Fresh calls to ban zero hour contracts as a third of workers are given just days’ notice of shifts

An “insecurity premium” is costing almost half of shifts workers an additional £30 a month, a study has found.

Calls to ban zero hour contracts have been renewed after research found a third of workers are given less than a week’s notice of their shifts – a figure that rises to half for low-paid workers. 

The precariousness of work in the UK is highlighted in the new study by the Living Wage Foundation, which also found more than 20 per cent of people have had their work shifts cancelled unexpectedly, the vast majority without receiving their full pay. 

Predictable working hours are often necessary to plan childcare arrangements, with nearly one in five of those who have experienced short shift notice periods or shift cancellations saying they were forced to pay higher childcare costs as a result.

At the most extreme end, eight per cent of all working adults received less than 24 hours’ notice of their work schedule, the research conducted by Survation found. 

The instability also forces shift workers to increase their reliance on credit to compensate for unexpected drops in income. According to research conducted by the Trades Union Congress (TUC), more than one million people are on zero hour contracts, meaning there is no guarantee on the amount of work they will receive week to week. 

The number of people on such contracts has increased compared to 2020, with Black and Asian women twice as likely to be on zero hour contracts than white men.

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“Ministers must finally deliver the employment bill they promised more than two years ago to ban zero hours contracts. This includes bringing in decent notice of shifts and compensation for cancelled shifts,” said Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC). 

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“No one should have to worry about having enough money to pay the bills because they don’t know what hours they’ll be working from week to week. But that is the reality for too many in the UK.”

The Employment Bill was first announced in the 2019 December Queen’s Speech as a wide-ranging piece of legislation that would boost employees’ rights including ​​make it a right to request a more predictable contract, however it has not progressed in 2021. 

Seven in 10 Brits believe workers should have the right to 28 days’ notice before shift patterns are allocated, according to research conducted by GQR Research for the TUC. 

“We’ve long known that it costs to be poor, but this research shows it’s even more costly to be both poor and in insecure work,” said Katherine Chapman, director of the Living Wage Foundation. A lack of notice for working hours levies an “insecurity premium”, amounting to around £30 a month for nearly half of all shift workers. 

“In an unfolding costs of living crisis with energy bills set to rise even further, low-income households are facing ‘heat or eat’ decisions,” she continued. 

The Foundation, which calculates the national living wage – a separate amount to the government set national minimum wage that it believes is the minimum required to live off – is also calling on employers to commit to “Living Hours”.

The agreement would see employers commit to providing workers with secure, guaranteed hours and notice of shift patterns – alongside paying the national living wage.

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