Calls for UK employment bill to give workers rights to flexible working

·3 min read
The government announced plans in 2019 to give workers rights to flexible working in the UK. Photo: Getty
The government announced plans in 2019 to give workers rights to flexible working in the UK. Photo: Getty

Unions and campaigners in the UK urged the government on Thursday to introduce a long-awaited bill to boost workers' rights to flexible employment, and action on zero-hour contracts when used abusively.

Trades Union Congress (TUC) general Secretary Frances O'Grady, Zero Hours Justice founder Julian Richer and Living Wage Foundation director Katherine Chapman have written a letter to prime minister Boris Johnson to "include an employment bill" in May's Queen’s Speech.

In 2019, the government announced an employment bill to "encourage flexible working and consult on making it the default unless employers have good reasons not to", an issue which has become more pressing since the pandemic.

Delivering a boost to workers’ rights "was an urgent task in 2019, when a bill was first announced, and "is even more so today" given the impact of the pandemic, the letter states.

The Living Wage Foundation warned that households are "struggling" due to a "lack of hours" as the cost of living crisis deepens.

"We know low pay is affecting millions during this cost of living crisis, but the other side of this coin is insecure work," said Chapman.

"Million more workers and families are struggling to make ends meet due to a lack of hours, with many faced with uncertain shift patterns provided at short notice" she added. "This makes it impossible for people to plan their lives, and often comes with additional costs."

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The government also said it would introduce legislation to "tackle shameful tipping practices and ensure all tips go to workers" in September last year.

The letter warns that "failing to bring forward an employment bill would leave the government without an effective vehicle to make the necessary reforms to the workplace".

It comes after reports that the government has shelved the employment bill, more than two years since the legislation was first promised.

The TUC warned insecure work has become "endemic" in Britain, estimating that 3.6 million people are in insecure work, including over one million on zero-hours contracts against their will, the union body said.

Meanwhile, the Living Wage Foundation found that 32% of workers are given less than a week’s notice of their shifts.

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The calls follow ferry operator P&O Ferries' controversial decision to sack 800 seafarers last month without notice.

O’Grady said: "Working people can’t wait. They need the employment bill now.

"One million workers are on zero-hour contracts, more than three million are in insecure work, and the size of the gig economy has almost tripled in the past five years.

"After P&O, the need to upgrade workers’ rights has never been more urgent."

The letter concludes that "businesses do best when they treat their workers well". However, it states this "cannot be achieved without an employment bill", urging the government to reconsider its alleged plans.

"In my lifetime’s experience of businesses, both large and small, I have found a well-treated workforce is crucial to their success," Richer said.

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