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Flexible and part-time working extending gender pay gap, say unions

Frances O'Grady, General Secretary of the British Trades Union Congress speaks during an interview with Reuters journalists, in London, Britain, June 28, 2022. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls
Frances O'Grady, General Secretary of the British Trades Union Congress says all workers should be given the legal right to work flexibly from their first day in a job. Photo: Peter Nicholls/Reuters.

Women are more likely to work in flexible roles leading to a loss of hours and pay, according to a new study by the TUC.

The UK's Trades Union Congress (TUC) has analysed official statistics and found that women are much more likely than men to be in flexible working arrangements which mean they lose hours, and therefore pay.

The national trade union has called on government ministers to quickly act on their promise to extend and strengthen flexible working rights, so everyone has access to well-paid flexible work.

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Speaking about the new findings, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Flexible work shouldn’t always mean less hours or less pay.

“But too often, women pay a heavy financial price for trying to balance their work and caring responsibilities, being forced to drop hours, and lose pay, rather than fork out for extortionate childcare costs.

“This isn’t right. We need to ensure everyone has access to as many flexible working options as possible not just the ones that leave you worse off."

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The report was published on Thursday, and in it the TUC argue that a lack of good flexible working opportunities and the unequal division of caring responsibilities is forcing some women into flexibility that results in loss of pay.

The TUC categorise part-time work as less than 30 hours a week. The findings show that one in three women work part-time, compared to just one in nine men.

The TUC report that figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reveal that a woman working part-time is paid on average £5.40 an hour less than a full-time man, amounting to a 33% pay gap.

The findings from the national trade union claim there are fewer career, pay and progression opportunities for part-time workers compared to full-time workers.

Young female engineer measuring voltage on a conductor board in her workshop
Advertising jobs and offering flexible working boosts the number of applicants for those jobs.

The report issued by the TUC also looked at home-working, term-time only work and job sharing methods of earning a living.

They found that nearly one in 13 women work term-time only, which is around 39 weeks of the year instead of the full year, corresponding to 52 weeks.

In contrast to this, less than one in 50 men choose this option, so women are over four times more likely than men to be working term-time only.

The report found that job sharing is the least common form of flexible working arrangement. However, women were found to be three times more likely than men to be in a job share role.

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The TUC found that in the job sectors that are dominated by women, men are more likely than women to be home working.

In arts and recreation, where over half of employees are women, only one in six women work from home, compared with one in five men.

In the accommodation and food sector, where women make up more than half the workforce, around one in 50 women work at home, compared to one in 25 men.

The findings come a year to the day the government closed its consultation on flexible work, and ahead of the next committee stage of Yasmin Qureshi MP’s private members bill on flexible work.

The UK government ran a flexible work consultation at the end of last year and over 5,700 people submitted a response to this, but the results have yet to be published.

Flexible working in the UK

Millions of people across the UK are now working flexibly and this type of work can take lots of different forms.

Flexible working can be done from home and be conducted in a part-time manner.

This way of working has a financial impact as staff work less hours so receive less pay.

However, other forms of flexible work, like home working and compressed hours, mean workers can continue to work full-time and not lose hours and therefore pay.

Speaking about flexible working in the UK Frances O'Grady added: “Flexible working lets people both work and support their families. It’s how we keep mums in their jobs and close the gender pay gap. It gives dads more time with their kids. And it helps disabled workers, older workers and carers stay in work.

“But the current system isn’t working. Employers can turn down flexible working requests with impunity. And workers are too scared to ask about flexible working when applying for a job, for fear of not getting appointed.

“Ministers promised to modernise employment law to make flexible working options the norm for every job.

“The way to do that is for ministers to require all jobs to be advertised with the possible flexible working options stated – and to give all workers the legal right to work flexibly from their first day in a job.”

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