As tube workers prepare to go on strike over night opening, the TUC warns of the emotional and physical toll that shift work can take
Since the recession, there has been an increase in the number of people working irregular and part time work, including night shifts. According to a new report published by the TUC today, there were more than three million regular night workers in the UK in 2014, an increase of 6.9 per cent on the 2007 number.
While night work will always be an inevitable part of some jobs, it is crucial that employees are still able to retain a reasonable work/life balance and family life. The TUC’s report looks into the way that night work has changed, and makes a number of recommendations for improving its fairness.
Night work used to be common mainly in manufacturing plants, and therefore was mostly undertaken by men. Although men are still more likely to be night workers (14.9 per cent compared to 9.7 per cent), there has been a 12 per cent increase in the number of women working night shifts since 2007.
Plans to increase public transport provision at night, and proposals for a seven-day NHS, are likely to lead to further increases in night work. The TUC also suggests a knock-on effect where extended transport services may encourage more retail and leisure services to adopt night opening.
The TUC argues that all decisions to extend night working should involve consultation with workers’ representatives to ensure that it is implemented in a ‘fair and safe’ way.
Night workers are at increased risk of a number of health issues including diabetes and depression, and research reviewed in the report also shows that the quality of personal relationships can be affected by their schedules. There is also some evidence that night work can affect the emotional wellbeing of an employee’s children.
Unfortunately, on top of these problems, the TUC’s vulnerable worker project uncovered ‘considerable evidence’ that many employers are breaking the law in relation to night workers.
The Working Time Regulations state that a night worker’s average normal hours of work must not exceed eight hours for each 24-hour period, and night workers should receive free health assessments. According to the TUC’s research many industries were ignoring both these requirements.
Today the TUC recommends that:
Employers and unions should ensure that night working is only introduced where necessary.
Where night working is introduced into a workplace, no existing workers should be forced to work nights.
Shift patterns should be negotiated between unions and employers.
Workers should have some element of control over their rotas, so that they can ensure that the shifts they work are best suited to their individual circumstances.
Workers should always have sufficient notice of their shift patterns so they can make arrangements well in advance. Changes at short notice should be avoided.
The remuneration paid to those working nights should properly reflect the likely additional costs of childcare and inconvenience that night shifts can entail.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:
“We all value night workers, whether they are cleaning our office, caring for a sick relative or driving all night so that there are fresh goods in our local shop. But night work is hard and it disrupts family life. So we must show our appreciation for the sacrifices night workers make by ensuring they have sensible rights and protections.
The report’s publication could not be more timely, as today marks the start of the second strike by tube workers over pay and conditions for new night hours.
London Underground says that the disputed offer, which Boris Johnson has called ‘incredibly generous’, includes a 2 per cent salary increase this year, an extra £200 per night shift for drivers for a limited time and a £500 bonus for night Tube staff when the service is introduced in September.
But the RMT has described the planned extension as a ‘rushed and botched’ vanity project. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said staff were striking because they did not accept that their work/life balance should be wrecked to plug ‘gaping holes’ in staff capacity.
“Millions of week day commuters, who fork out a fortune in fares, risk seeing their safety compromised and their services reduced to chaos so that a few thousand revellers can be shipped home in the early hours of Saturday and Sunday morning and experienced tube managers know that.
“We urgently need to get talks convened with tube professionals who understand the reasons behind a crisis which should never have been allowed to get this far.”
Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left Foot ForwardLike this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.