Homeworking revolution has opened up a new ‘class divide’, research finds

People in working class occupations are less likely to have access to flexible hours, the TUC has found.

18 Jun 2021| News

Photo by Miguel Ángel Hernández on Unsplash

Workers are pushing for more flexibility in the way they work and employers are listening – but only to the middle classes.

This is according to the results of a new poll conducted by the TUC, which found that while nearly two-thirds (60%) of people in higher-paid professions worked from home during the pandemic, less than a quarter (23%) of those in working class jobs did.

People who were not able to work from home during the pandemic were also significantly more likely to be refused any other form of flexible working – such as flexi-time, part-time or term-time hours.

One in six (16%) employers said they would not offer any form of flexibility to workers who could not work from home during the pandemic, but only one in 16 (6%) employers said the same about those whose jobs can be done remotely.

Only half of all workers (54%) said they have the right to request flexible working within their current jobs.

This is despite soaring demand for flexible working conditions, with 91% of those who worked from home during the pandemic saying they want to continue to do at least part of their jobs remotely, 81% of all workers saying they want access to flexible working, and 64% saying they want flexible working hours.

While many workers need flexibility in order to fit work around other parts of their lives, such as caring duties for children and relatives, one in ten (9%) said they specifically wanted mutually agreed predictable hours – a factor lacking in many precarious roles, such as where zero-hour contracts and employment agencies are used. The proportion seeking predictability rose to one in eight (13%) among working class occupations.

TUC General Secretary, Frances O’Grady, said that “no one, whether they can work from home or not, should miss out on flexible working options that help them do their job and manage their other responsibilities too”.

“This emerging class divide in access to flexible working is no way to thank those workers who carried on doing their job in workplaces throughout the pandemic,” she said.

The TUC argued that flexible working should be a day one right for every worker in every type of job and that zero-hour contracts should be banned. They also called for a ‘right to disengage’ so that workers do not have to continue focusing on their jobs out-of-hours, and for trade unions to be supported to collectively bargain for flexible working conditions.

IER Chair, Lord John Hendy QC, has introduced a Private Members’ Bill to the House of Lords that would enable all people in employment to have the same rights – including the same rights to access flexible work. The Status of Workers Bill would prevent workers being divided into two ‘classes’ with varying rights and give every worker equal legal protections.