Is economic uncertainty to blame for the fall in part-time workers?

The latest jobs figures open up all sorts of questions about how employers are dealing with the current economic uncertainty and who is being hit hardest.

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The latest employment figures make interesting reading. The number of women working fell by 93,000 in the three months to September. There was also a fall in the number of part-time workers [down 164,000]. Given the majority of part-time workers are women this seems not to be a coincidence.

The Institute for Employment Studies says that this is partly linked to employers seeking to boost hours instead of hiring during a period of great economic uncertainty – the number of full-time workers was up by 106,000. workingmums.co.uk has certainly had a fair number of emails in from mums who have been asked to increase their hours. This is often not possible for them because of childcare issues. Employees have a number of rights related to changes in their terms and conditions, but many have clauses in their contracts which specify employers can change their hours for business reasons. Our employment lawyers have provided advice in such cases.

The issue of working hours is interesting. We have seen a significant increase in mums working full time in recent years. While a lack of part-time jobs may be one issue, the need for more income is another driver. A report by the Resolution Foundation yesterday showed low incomes and longer hours have been a major driver of low unemployment since the 2008 recession. The result, particularly if employers are not flexible, can be huge time pressure on families.

Technology may also play a part in the rise in full-time working – it enables greater flexibility, such as remote working, making full-time working more possible, but this mainly applies to a certain segment of more office-based jobs. Another factor is that the latest jobs statistics cover the summer holiday period – July to September. High childcare costs and lack of availability of subsidised holiday childcare schemes can make working over the summer financially unviable, particularly for those on lower incomes.

In short there are a variety of issues at play, but economics is often at the heart of them. The fact that women tend to be paid less – something that will be highlighted in tomorrow’s Equal Pay Day which marks the day in the year when women start ‘working for free’ due to the disparity in pay with men – means women are often on the sharp end of employment trends.

While there is a difference between equal pay and the gender pay gap, which is often confused in discussions about equal pay, the overall impact is the same – women get paid less over their lifetime than men. Equal pay is about being paid the same as a man doing an equivalent job. The recent BBC case with Samira Ahmed is one example – she argues that she does the same work as a male presenter, but is paid 85% less. The gender pay gap is linked in large part to the fact that women tend to find themselves substantially less likely to be in the top jobs which attract the top pay. There are various reasons why, including the lack of flexible senior jobs and the fact that women still tend to do more of the childcare work than men as well as straightforward bias/discrimination. Women also tend to be in professions which attract lower pay – they are more likely, for instance, to work in the public sector – and to work in functions that attract less pay, in no small part due to the fact that women do them.

Survey after survey shows that the lack of senior flexible, particularly part-time, jobs is holding women back. If it is correct that the latest jobs figures show employers are increasing hours rather than hiring new people, just as they reduced hours to retain staff after the 2008 recession [something that particularly hit male workers], this could have a significant impact on diversity and inclusion and the gender pay gap. It’s also interesting that this is happening at a time of skills gaps in many sectors. It’s hard to predict what the overall trend will be, but at the moment it doesn’t look particularly good for women who don’t want to work full time.



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