Flexible Hours Controlled by Management Cause Stress for Low-Paid Workers


Recent research into chains of a major supermarket in London revealed that stress and damage caused to low-paid employees stretches far further than zero hours contracts. The supermarket branch, which has not been named, uses 'flexed-hours' contracts to gain control over workers' hours in a way that suits their needs.

Watching the clock

Flexible hours contracts see workers contracted with a minimum number of hours (sometimes as low as 7.5) but with the opportunity to work extra hours when offered.

The government claims that flexible hours give employees greater control and room to manoeuvre hours to suit them – but this study tells a different story.

"Control is a Privilege of High-End Workers"

The research, conducted by Dr Alex Wood from Cambridge's Department of Sociology, found that the control employers are able to exert over flexible hours workers can be detrimental. He said:

"It is misleading to claim that flexibility provided by zero-hour contracts is beneficial for 'most' workers' work-life balance, and it is simply implausible to suggest this is the case for low-paid, vulnerable workers who by definition lack the power to control their working time."

Wood's research found the supermarket employed 45% of staff on these flexible contracts; they had as little as 7.5 confirmed hours each week, yet workers needed to be able to offer 48 hours of availability.

"Whether zero core hours, or seven, or nine - none provide enough to live on. This precarious situation of not having enough hours to make ends meet is heightened by a perception that refusal to work additional hours meant they would not be offered them again in future, something most workers simply couldn't afford."

It's clear that workers are given little choice about the schedule they work, a Union Rep said; "People have been told, wrongly, that they can be sacked for it if they don't change their hours."

Flexible Hours can be Damaging for Families

Wood's research looked into the impact these flexible hours have on individuals and their families, they described their experiences:

Sara - "We've set aside Saturday as a day to do something - me, Paul and my son - as a family... She [Sara's manager] now wants me to work Saturdays... it's all up in the air."

Colin - "I had to change hours, or accept another position, or try another store... I felt really sick, it just hit me, it hit all of us..."

These experiences show how it can be difficult to make any personal or family plans, as an employer can request you come in. Employees are plagued with the threat of losing future work, or even their job, if they turn down the hours. It's easy to see how zero hours and flexed hours contracts cause can such stress and uncertainty for low paid workers.

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