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Workers on insecure contracts less likely to have family-friendly benefits, study finds

15 Feb 2018 By Marianne Calnan

Employers urged to offer flexible working to all to ‘boost talent attraction and retention’

Workers who feel they lack job security are being denied access to vital family-friendly benefits such as flexible working, according to new research.

The report, Dualisation and the access to occupational family-friendly working-time arrangements across Europe, found that those termed ‘outsider workers’, such as those on non-permanent contracts, were less likely than others to be offered flexible ways of working that would allow them to look after their families. 

The study, conducted by the University of Kent School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research’s Dr Heejung Chung, revealed that low-skilled workers and those who perceived their jobs to be less secure were less likely to have access to non-statutory flexible working arrangements than those in higher-skilled work and more secure employment, named ‘insider workers’.

Chung found that this was because, unlike statutory arrangements, flexible arrangements can be used by employers to reward or incentivise their insider workers. 

Chung, labour market expert and reader in sociology and social policy, focused on women with care responsibilities who have the most demand for family-friendly policies. 

The two types of non-statutory family-friendly arrangements considered were flexi-time and taking time off during working hours for personal reasons.

Women in particular in these kinds of roles were found to be lacking access to flexible working, which prevented them from family care and often led to them leaving jobs early.

Chung highlighted the European divisions between the flexible arrangements available to skilled and secure staff and those accessible by unskilled staff on insecure and non-permanent contracts.

The differences in likelihood to receive family-friendly benefits were found to depend more on how highly skilled the employee’s job was than on the security of the job. 

Ben Black, chief executive of My Family Care, told People Management that those in ‘insecure’ work were held at bay when trying to balance work responsibilities with childcare. He urged more employers to offer better flexible working to all workers, wherever possible.

“Every employer wants a reliable and engaged workforce with people who are happy to be at work, and family-friendly flexible working can help achieve that,” he said. “It doesn’t cost anything – it just requires empathy from employers.”

Louisa Copsey, partner at law firm Taylor Rose TTKW, said organisations should become more “savvy” to being open to flexibility for working parents. 

“Employers that aren’t accommodating employees’ needs can see a detrimental impact on employees’ productivity, and cause serious worry and stress for them – if they have concerns about their child’s health, for example,” she said. 

Copsey added that, particularly in the long-run, flexible working “boosts talent attraction and retention”.

Ian Brinkley, acting CIPD chief economist, said from the study it appeared that employers “place more value on their higher-skilled employees than those with lower skills”, meaning there is greater incentive to offer [the former] family-friendly benefits. 

Brinkley said this may be because low-skilled workers are perceived as “easy to replace, and are less likely to approach their employer to ask for flexible working arrangements”.

The findings follow gig economy workers’ employment law claims, alongside campaigns to improve such workers’ rights. The Independent Workers Union recently sought to overturn a Central Arbitration Committee decision that Deliveroo drivers are self-employed.

An Employment Appeal Tribunal ruled on 10 November 2017 that Uber drivers were workers, not self-employed – and therefore entitled to basic employment rights including paid holiday and the national minimum wage.

Debate on how to improve the plight of insecure and gig economy workers continues, with the government recently responding to the Good Work: The Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices report. Taylor resisted recommending the regulation of workers’ rights, and defended employer ‘flexibility’ in the labour market.

MP Ed Miliband, however, recently said so-called ‘flexibility’ was just employers’ name for worker insecurity. He advocated for better employments rights for such workers, pointing to a crisis in British living standards as workers bore the riskier elements of the economy. That extends to all aspects of workers’ lives, especially women, including their ability to care for their families. 

A recent government attempt to highlight take-up of shared parental leave for childcare was launched nearly three years after it was introduced, after the Department for Business said take-up "could be as low as 2 per cent".

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