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Work becoming more secure but more action needed to enforce employment rights and improve job quality

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CIPD (@CIPD) calls for enhanced protection of employment rights for vulnerable in the labour market as Government appoints new director of labour market enforcement

A new report from the CIPD finds that, overall, employment in the UK has actually become more secure on most measures over the last decade – despite the impact of the pandemic.  

Compared with 2010, there are proportionally fewer people today working variable hours, working part-time involuntarily, or wanting to work more hours. The proportion of people in non-permanent employment and on low pay (earning 60% of median earnings) has also fallen. And where people are in atypical arrangements, the evidence suggests most non-permanent workers choose this type of employment because it suits their lifestyle needs.   

However, the report – based on data analysis from a range of sources including the ONS – confirms that insecurity does remain a problem for a significant minority of workers. The CIPD is therefore calling on employers and 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.   

Key findings from CIPD’s report ‘Has work become less secure?’ show that: 

  • Almost 1 in 5 workers (18.6%) are non-permanent employees (self-employed or on temporary contracts). This has fallen from 19.2% in 2010. 
  • People are generally more able to get the hours that they want, and regular hours, more so than at the beginning of the 2010s. 
  • Zero hours contracts account for just 2.8% of the workforce. While often maligned, almost two thirds (64.5%) of people on zero hours contracts have a permanent role so are likely to have full employment rights, subject to length of service. The vast majority are not looking for a new job (84.6%) and most (75.5%) do not want more hours. 

Jonathan Boys, labour market economist for the CIPD comments: 
“It’s positive to see that work has become more secure in the last ten years on most measures. The worst of the impact of the pandemic on jobs is expected to be temporary and the positives, such as more flexible working and homeworking, seem likely to settle at above pre-pandemic norms.  

“However, when it comes to working arrangements, one size does not fit all. One person’s flexibility could be another person’s insecurity. Employers must manage atypical arrangements responsibly, keeping choice and job quality at the heart of discussions about different ways of working.

“And while it’s welcome news that a new Director of Labour Market Enforcement has been appointed, the Government must ensure the forthcoming creation of a Single Enforcement Body is underpinned by the necessary resources to meaningfully protect people’s rights and improve employment standards.” 

While work is more secure on most measures, the study recognises that pockets of insecurity persist in the UK labour market: 

  • One in ten people (8%) of the UK’s workforce would like to work more hours 
  • 3% are involuntarily working part-time as they’re unable to find a full-time role 
  • A third (33%) of temporary employees (representing 1.9% of all employees) would like a permanent job. 
  • Zero hours contracts account for just 2.8% of the workforce, but they are disproportionately concentrated among young people and in sectors such as hospitality (14% of workforce) and in health and social work to a lesser extent. 

To address these challenges the CIPD has published guidance to help employers use atypical and insecure contracts responsibly, ensuring that flexibility is two-sided and mutually beneficial. It is also urging policy makers to remain focused on improving job quality, by making changes in three areas: 

Enforcement: The best way for government to protect people from insecure work  is to strengthen enforcement of existing employment rights across the labour market. This means ensuring the forthcoming creation of a Single Enforcement Body is supplemented by sufficient resources to boost inspection capability and support enhanced employer compliance.  

Skills and progression: Opportunities to gain skills and progress at work mitigate against low pay and insecure work. To support this, there needs to be substantive reform to the UK skills system in order to reverse years of declining employer investment in training. 

Measure and track job quality: The inclusion of a subjective job satisfaction question in the ONS Labour Force Survey would help researchers better understand the effects of insecurity on individuals and how to address this. 

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