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Flexible working ‘class divide’ as normality returns

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Written by: Emma Lunn
18/06/2021
Working class jobs have less access to homeworking, and flexible hours are more likely to be refused, according to the Trades Union Congress (TUC).

The union has found an ‘emerging class divide’ in who gets flexible working, noting that homeworking is not the only form of flexible working.

A report published by the TUC found 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.

The number of workers who work from home has been transformed by the pandemic. Nine out of 10 (91%) people who worked from home during the pandemic wish to continue doing their job remotely at least some of the time.

The poll also revealed a significant divide in access to homeworking between higher paid and working class occupations. It found a strong demand for other forms of flexible working from all groups of workers, such as control over working hours.

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 shows that those who can’t work from home are significantly more likely to be denied flexible working options by employers after the pandemic.

One in six (16%) employers surveyed said 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 one in 16 (6%) saying they will not offer flexible working opportunities to those who worked 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. It’s calling on the government to bring in new flexible working rights for every worker in every job.

Workers want flexibility

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

The TUC points out that 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. These include flexi-time (23%), part-time (15%), predictable hours (9%), compressed hours (8%), term-time working (6%), and annualised hours (4%).

But only half (54%) of workers 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 (9%) workers want mutually agreed predictable hours after the pandemic, rising to one in 8 (13%) for working class occupations.

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.

The union body says that 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.

Frances O’Grady, TUC general secretary, said: “Working people adapted brilliantly to the challenges of the pandemic. They made sure businesses survived and kept our vital services running.

“Lots of people worked from home – while others went out to work every day. As the UK gets back to normal, lots of workers will want to keep the flexibility of working from home. But no-one, whether they can work from home or not, should miss out on flexible working options that help them do their job and manage their other responsibilities too.

“Government must bring in a new right to flexible working for every worker, in every job. Otherwise people in working class jobs will miss out – while those who can work from home get the benefits of flexible working.

“This emerging class divide in access to flexible working is no way to thank those workers who carried on doing their job in workplaces throughout the pandemic. Ministers should seize the moment and make Britain a world leader in flexible working rights.”

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