Unite has warned that the failure of many businesses to provide adequate notice of shift patterns is damaging workers’ health and destroying family lives.
Unite issued its warning today (April 15) following the publication of a survey by the Living Wage Foundation that found where workers operated on variable hours or shifts, more than three fifths (62 per cent) were only given notice of a week or less about when they would be working.
The problem of variable shift working is found in many of Unite’s industrial sectors, but is a particular problem in the areas of HGV driving, delivery driving, warehousing and logistics.
The constant changing of shifts results in workers’ health being damaged through long-term fatigue, due to a lack of rest and recovery time. It also causes huge emotional strain on family life and makes it virtually impossible to organise childcare.
An additional factor, which is a major issue for warehouse and delivery staff, is being required to ‘stay on’ beyond the end of shifts for ‘operational reasons’ if a delivery is late, with no flexibility of the start of the next shift, further reducing rest and recovery time.
Variable start and finishing times make it very difficult for workers to utilise public transport and leaves them having to rely on a car to journey to and from work.
Unite has found that workers who are most affected by changing shift patterns and unclear finishing times are often the lowest paid and frequently have multiple jobs, where a lack of consistency has an even greater impact on their health and family lives.
“Lack of notice of shifts and the failure to ensure workers have sufficient rest, is destroying workers’ long-term health and leaving them permanently fatigued,” commented Unite national officer Matt Draper.
“It is not just workers’ physical health which is damaged, constantly changing work patterns undermines family and social lives, making isolation and loneliness a big problem, which in terms impacts on workers’ mental health.
“If workers do not have a consistent work pattern affordable childcare is almost impossible to arrange.
“For professional drivers and warehouse staff the problem of short notice of shifts is compounded by a requirement to stay on at work often without warning due to the needs of the employer.
“Like so many workplace problems it is the lowest paid, who often undertake multiple jobs and are often on glorified zero hours contracts, who suffer the greatest from short notice shift patterns and being forced to stay on past official finishing times.
“Where Unite has organised workplaces, one of the union’s key priorities is to regularise work patterns, in order to tackle the problems of short notice shifts.
“The problem of short notice and ever changing shift patterns is only going to be tackled by workers becoming organised, joining a union and working collectively to tackle exploitative and damaging working conditions,” concluded Draper.
By Barckley Sumner