UK employment more secure despite the pandemic, data shows

But pockets of insecurity still persist as small minority are unable to find full-time work

Employment in the UK has become more secure in almost all measures over the last decade, with the coronavirus having relatively little impact, research from the CIPD has found.

The report, Has work become less secure?, found there were proportionally fewer people today working variable hours, working part-time involuntarily, or wanting to work more hours than in 2010.

It found that employees on zero-hours contracts accounted for just 2.8 per cent of the workforce, the majority of whom (64.5 per cent) were in permanent roles – meaning they were likely to have full employment rights, subject to length of service.

And despite zero-hours contracts often being maligned, the report found the vast majority of people on such contracts were not looking for a new job (84.6 per cent) and did not want to do more hours (75.5 per cent).

The report also found the number of non-permanent staff who were self-employed or on temporary contracts had dropped over the last 10 years, from 19.2 per cent in 2010 to 18.6 per cent now, noting that most non-permanent workers in ‘atypical’ arrangements chose that type of work because it suited their lifestyle needs.

The research was based on analyses of data from a range of sources, including the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

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However, the report also confirmed that “pockets of insecurity” persist in the UK labour market, affecting a significant minority of workers.

Nearly one in 10 of the UK’s workforce (8 per cent) would like to work more hours, while 3 per cent were involuntarily working part-time because they were unable to find a full-time role.

Additionally, a third (33 per cent) of temporary employees, representing 1.9 per cent of all employees, would like a permanent job.

It also found that while zero-hours contracts accounted for a small portion of the workforce, they were disproportionately concentrated among young people and in sectors such as hospitality and in health and, to a lesser extent, social work.

Kate Palmer, HR advice and consultancy director at Peninsula, said that while flexible arrangements like zero-hours and casual work do suit some people and certainly have a place in the economy, employers would be wise to tap into what their talent pool is looking for.

“Instead of working on assumptions about what people want, employers should have access to hard facts about working arrangements that suit employees and therefore increase engagement and loyalty to a business,” said Palmer.

“While it may mean a shift in ‘old ways’ for employers, it’s important to move with the times and embrace new ways of working that match the needs of those who can drive the business forward,” she said.

The CIPD is calling on employers and the government to put choice and job quality at the heart of discussions about ways of working, in order to protect people from insecure working arrangements that do not suit their needs.

Jonathan Boys, labour market economist at the CIPD, said that while it was positive to see work has largely become more secure in the last ten years, it was important to remember that one size does not fit all.

“One person’s flexibility could be another person’s insecurity,” said Boys. “Employers must manage atypical arrangements responsibly, keeping choice and job quality at the heart of discussions about different ways of working.”

Boys added that while it was welcome news that the government had appointed a new director of labour market enforcement, the government’s forthcoming single enforcement body needed to be “underpinned by the necessary resources to meaningfully protect people’s rights and improve employment standards”.

Gary Cookson, director of EPIC HR said any unease felt by employees about the future of work wasn’t helped by mixed messages from the government and health officials about whether people need to be working from home or in offices, leaving many employees wondering what their employers are planning for the future.

“Job quality will mean different things to different people but some core principles about what it means to be employed by an organisation should be well understood by all within it,” he said, adding: “People professionals should be leading these conversations.”