TUC demands better treatment of shift workers

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 Forward

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10 Responses to “TUC demands better treatment of shift workers”

  1. stevep

    About time someone put premium rates for night and shift working back on the agenda for discussion.

    They were introduced as agreements between Unions and Employers to compensate for the unsociability of working nights/weekends/overtime.

    Since the shackling of Unions, employers have moved to 24/7 working and have ridden roughshod over many agreements, cutting premium payments and leading to a worsening of employees pay and conditions.

    In the current oppressive employment environment, most workers are grateful for a job and will “put-up-and-shut-up” rather than rock the boat. Unions have to take up the fight on their behalf.

    Labour must pledge to legislate to enable Trades Unions to represent their members (and by extension, most working people) comprehensively.

    A key part of any such legislation would be making agreements between Unions and Employers legal and binding. Too many employers have sought to weaken parts of agreements that favour employees whilst casting in stone parts that favour them.

    It was always argued that legislating for this would unnecessarily complicate and lengthen the negotiating process, but experience has shown that if employers are given an inch, they will go for the full mile.

    Ultimately, we on the Left must strive to build a society where we work to live, not the other way round.

  2. Selohesra

    They should not force them to work nights & by the same token there should be no objection if London Transport decide to employ some non-union staff who do wish to work

  3. stevep

    Far-Right Trolling for slavery.

  4. Sid

    Employ people who will work nights and sack the ones that won’t.

  5. blarg1987

    Should we sack you if you complain about your work in any way shape or form and employ someone who wont?

  6. Selohesra

    Not for just complaining but if he refuses to do the job he is employed to do then yes

  7. TN

    Morons like the TUC don’t understand that some industries need night shift workers. Stop acting like this is a huge issue, because these workers have adapted to the challenges of night work. Enough mollycoddling by the unions.

    Figures that none of them have probably never worked in business.

  8. TN


  9. Dave Stewart

    Those tubes workers have legally binding contracts with their employers. They are a two way deal. The workers cannot decide one day that they don’t like the terms and conditions and demand that they be changed and expect the employer just to roll over and do it. The same is true in reverse. TFL have no right to change those contracts without the agreement of the workers. Also you cannot sack people if they have done nothing wrong and you cannot demonstrate that you don’t need them to do the work any more. These laws were brought in to stop employers discriminating against people for a whole variety of reasons, one being trade unionism.

    TFL could employ people to work only the new shifts they propose if they wanted but that would be very expensive and time consuming. They would have to train the new staff and employ them (which is itself and expensive endeavour).

    The Unions aren’t against night running in principle but TFL have consistently ignored their concerns and tried to paint this as a dispute about pay which it is not.

  10. blarg1987

    So if your employer asks you to do something that is hazardous and dangerous by your own admission you should be sacked?

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