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Almost 40% of UK workers ‘get less than a week’s notice of shift patterns’

Richard Partington Economics correspondent
·3 min read

Almost two-fifths of UK workers are given only short notice of their working hours, research has revealed, with lower-paid staff suffering the most during the pandemic, in a sign that precarious employment practices are widespread across the economy.

The Living Wage Foundation campaign said that 38% of all workers – representing about 10 million people in the UK workforce – were being given less than a week’s notice of shift patterns by their employer.

In research exposing the scale of precarious work, the figures suggest that chaotic employment practices and just-in-time arrangements extend well beyond roles in hospitality, retail and warehousing into typically higher-paying professional jobs.

Based on two surveys of more than 2,000 workers, the study showed that short-notice periods were most common in London, where 48% of workers were given less than a week’s advance notice of their schedules.

Short-notice periods were even more pronounced for those in jobs with variable hours or shift work built into their contracts, with 62% having less than a week to prepare for their schedule. At the extreme, 12% of this group – amounting to 7% all working adults – had less than 24 hours’ notice.

Low-paid, full-time workers from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, and those with children, were also disproportionately affected.

Laura Gardiner, the director of the Living Wage Foundation, said lack of clear notice of shift patterns meant millions of workers were being forced to make impossible choices on childcare, transport and other important aspects of family life.

“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,” she said.

Official figures have shown lower-paid workers and those in the hospitality sector have been more likely to fall out of work during the Covid pandemic, as lockdown measures hit businesses which rely on face-to-face interaction most.

In response to the fallout for hospitality sector workers, Sacha Lord, Manchester’s night-time economy adviser, has called for an industry-wide fair tipping policy, amid concern that staff will not receive as much money from tips after lockdown controls are relaxed. Research from the US on tipping in hospitality venues suggests there has been a sharp decline, which Lord said would inevitably follow in the UK.

According to research by One Fair Wage, a US campaign group, 83% of American hospitality workers have experienced a decline in tips following reopening, and 67% said tips had decreased as a result of Covid safety rules, such as social distancing.

The night-time economy – which includes pubs, restaurants and bars – is the fifth biggest industry in the UK, employing nearly 10% of the country’s workforce. However, workers are disproportionately low-paid compared with the wider economy.

Hospitality supports a third of jobs in Greater Manchester, with 21% of full-time and 53% of part-time workers in the region earning less than the living wage – a voluntary rate calculated to reflect what people need to make ends meet.

The call for more transparency and an operator code of conduct covering tipping in the hospitality sector is backed by the trade union Unite, and by Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, who has called for a new employment standard as part of his 2021 manifesto announced on Thursday.

Lord said: “Not only has Covid all but killed off cash, but the social distancing measures in place means less interaction between waiting staff and customers. It’s likely we’ll see a serious decline, if not the end of tipping, because of this.”