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15 March 2022

Millions of employees don’t know if they’ll be working next week

Insecure working hours are bad for wellbeing and add extra costs such as emergency childcare.

By Katharine Swindells

Half the low-paid workers in the UK get less than a week’s notice of whether and when they will be working, according to research published today. The Living Wage Foundation found that two thirds of low-paid workers on variable-hour contracts — a category which includes couriers, cleaners and many NHS workers — don’t know if they will be working next week.

The research found that a third (32 per cent) of all workers in the UK got less than a week’s notice, and this proportion was much higher when it came to workers on non-fixed or zero-hours contracts. Many workers received even less notice: 34 per cent of people on variable hours, and 43 per cent of workers on variable hours who earned below the Living Wage, had less than four days’ notice of their hours.

[See also: What we’re getting wrong about the “Great Resignation”]

The UK Living Wage is higher than the government minimum wage, and is calculated annually based on the cost of living by the Resolution Foundation and overseen by the Living Wage Commission. Outside of London, it is £9.90 an hour, and the London Living Wage is £11.05 an hour.

Not only are insecure working hours bad for employees' wellbeing, making it hard to plan ahead or have a social life, says Katherine Chapman, director of the Living Wage Foundation, they also create additional financial burdens in costs such as last-minute childcare. “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 Chapman.

Last year the New Statesman spoke to a self-employed Amazon delivery driver who earned a flat rate of £170 a day, no matter how long his route took, which often worked out below the minimum wage. Such drivers usually find out whether they will be working the night before a shift, and drivers who aren’t compliant are put on call, unpaid, in case any extra work comes up.

“Insecure work plagues our labour market -- with more than a million workers relying on zero-hours contracts to get by,” said Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress. “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.”

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