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The Future of Flexible Work

A report published by the TUC suggests an emerging class divide as some workers opt to keep working from home whereas those who can’t work from home have little access to any forms of flexible working.

Nine out of ten (91%) people who worked from home during the pandemic wish to continue doing their job remotely at least some of the time, says the report.

The polling also reveals a significant divide in access to homeworking between higher-paid and working-class occupations. And it finds strong demand for other forms of flexible working from all groups of workers, such as control over working hours.

Increased homeworking for some could create a new class divide

The poll found that people in higher-paid occupations are much more likely to have worked from home during the pandemic (60%) than those in working-class jobs (23%).

The TUC’s research also suggests that those who cannot work from home are significantly more likely to be denied flexible working options by employers after the pandemic.

1 in 6 (16%) of employers surveyed say that after the pandemic, they will not offer flexible working opportunities to staff who could not work from home during the pandemic. This compares to 1 in 16 (6%) saying they will not offer flexible working opportunities to those who did work from home in the pandemic.

The TUC says that this shows a new “emerging class divide” in access to jobs that enable workers to balance their working life and other responsibilities, and calls on the government to bring in new flexible working rights for every worker in every job.

Most workers want to work flexibly

Four out of five (82%) of workers say that they want to take up some form of flexible working in the future.

Flexible working is about hours as well as location. Almost two-thirds (64%) of workers say that they want some form of flexibility in their working hours after the pandemic, including flexi-time (23%), part-time (15%), predictable hours (9%), compressed hours (8%), term-time working (6%) and annualised hours (4%).

But only half of workers (54%) say they have the right in their current job to request a change to their regular working hours to fit around other commitments.

For many workers, what they need to balance work and other responsibilities is predictability in their hours and pattern of work. This is particularly true of those working shifts, or on zero-hours contracts.

The survey found that one in 10 workers want mutually agreed predictable hours (9%) after the pandemic, rising to one in 8 (13%) for working-class occupations.

The solution, says the TUC: a new right to flexible working in all jobs, for all workers.

Most workers (63%) believe that working people should get flexible working from day one in a job.

In response to the changes brought about by the pandemic, the TUC says that ministers must bring in the right to flexible working for every worker, regardless of where they work or what job they do – and that every job should be advertised with flexible working options clearly displayed. Not every job may be open to all forms of flexible working – but all jobs should be open to some forms. Employers should have far less discretion to refuse flexible working, says the TUC.

The union body says that the government must urgently modernise the right to flexible working, bringing forward the long-promised employment bill as quickly as possible to deliver the new rights working people need.

These new rights should include:

  • A right to flexible working for all workers in all jobs, covering the right to work remotely for some, or all of the time, and to greater control over hours – subject to employer rights to refuse only in exceptional circumstances.

  • A duty to include some flexible working options when advertising jobs, with workers having the right to take up the types of flexibility advertised.

  • A ban on zero-hours contracts, with fair flexibility guaranteed through a stronger floor of rights on choice of working hours and shift notice.

  • A ‘right to disconnect’, so that all workers are protected from demands to work outside of their contracted hours.

  • Stronger rights for workers to access trade unions and collectively bargain for fair flexible working policies.

The full TUC report is available here.

TUC June 2021

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