Tackling ‘precarious’ work practices


Academics from Alliance MBS’ European Work and Employment Research Centre (EWERC) have unveiled a blueprint for reducing ‘precarious’ work in the UK as part of a major European-wide research programme.

The Manchester team identified five specific types of employment contract in the UK which they described as often precarious. These included many types of part-time work, zero hours contracts, temporary work, cost-driven subcontracting, and even many full-time permanent jobs which suffer from low pay and job insecurity.

Damian Grimshaw, Professor of Employment Studies, explained: “With part-time work there is strong evidence that employers are designing flexible and low hours contracts in response to demand as opposed to workers’ preferences. Meanwhile zero hours contracts are a growing problem. Their ambiguous legal status means a worker’s entitlement to rights and employment conditions is not consistently applied. Also, variability in working patterns means both financial security and work-life balance are subject to the vagaries of market conditions and employer demand.”

Regards temporary work, he said that both agency and fixed-term contract employees may only acquire certain rights after a specified period of continuous employment.

“While fixed-term temporary workers face problems of job/contract insecurity, temporary agency workers experience the additional risk of exclusion from formal rights and entitlements by virtue of their classification as ‘worker’ rather than ‘employee’, or due to the limited duration of their employment contract.

“In addition, much temporary work is involuntary. Around two thirds of workers in temporary agency work would prefer a permanent employment contract and many become trapped in a ‘low pay, no pay’ cycle.”

Prof Grimshaw added that cost-driven subcontracting work was often associated with conditions of intensive cost competition and undercutting of labour standards.

“Our assessment suggests long and complex supply chains sometimes obscure the boundaries of the employment relationship and make it difficult to establish and enforce an employer’s social and legal responsibilities to meet worker rights and employment conditions.”

The UK research team selected four case studies from different sectors with the aim of illuminating how processes of social dialogue might reduce precarious work and identified the challenges which remain. It made the following key recommendations:

*a move towards minimum shift hours/guaranteed hours (eg following New Zealand’s 2016 ban on zero hours contracts)

*rights to flexible working from day one, not after six months full time

*strengthen statutory support for ‘participative standards’ so that workers can rely upon a well-resourced and informed representative voice at work

*abolish fees for taking a case to an employment tribunal

*legislate to require decent employment standards in low-cost subcontracting

Added Prof Grimshaw: “The financial crisis and austerity policies have exacerbated social and economic disparities within and across member states of Europe and precarious work is a headline agenda issue for policymakers and social partners alike across Europe.

“The extent to which work is becoming precarious varies by country and relates to the weakening of employment protections, restricted social protections, greater employer use of subcontracting and false self-employment, among others.”

The team from EWERC, which also included Mat Johnson, Arjan Keizer and Jill Rubery, recently presented their findings to a conference in Brussels. Other countries included in the project are Denmark, France, Germany, Slovenia and Spain.




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