Many parents on low incomes are unaware of their employment rights and feel concepts like work life balance and family friendly or flexible working are not for them, according to a TUC report.
The report, based on a survey of more than 1,000 people with combined household incomes of £28,000 or less, showed many on low incomes felt flexible and family friendly work were for other people – women with children who worked in offices, in better-paying jobs, who could afford to reduce their pay.
While they didn’t know about their employment rights, when told about them the report says they couldn’t imagine taking them up because they were afraid to do so.
Half of young parents (51%) working in low-paid jobs like retail, social care and childcare said they have a boss who has never spoken to them about their workplace policies to time off to look after their kids – some 63% of young mums and dads were not aware of the right to unpaid parental leave and 29% had to use annual leave in the last year when their child was sick.
Some 42% of parents felt penalised at work if they asked for flexible hours, with some fearing they might lose their job. And 47% said they struggled to balance work with parenting, despite legal changes in the past decade intended to make it easier for parents to spend time with their children.
Flexible working practices are causing young mums and dads real difficulties, says the report. This includes shifts changing at short notice, rotas being given out with less than one weeks’ notice and uncertainty over shift finishing times. 19% of young parents reported that they had been given a rota with less than one weeks’ notice, within the last 12 months.
The TUC has made 16 recommendations for the government, including ensuring all parents have the same rights from day one in their jobs, whether or not they are employees or not; they should be given their shifts at least a month in advance; they should receive information about their workplace rights; and parental leave and time off for dependants should paid. It calls for the government should start by introducing a period of five days paid parental leave, paid at least at the rate of the relevant National Minimum Wage rate.
Working Families CEO Sarah Jackson said: “Younger parents are more likely to share care than the generations before them, and value flexibility at work highly. But the UK labour market is short-changing them. All too often a low-paid, insecure job, where the flexibility is all one way, is their only option if they want to work and care for their child.
“The government says it wants to expand workers’ rights post-Brexit. If it’s serious, it should level the playing field on parental rights between those classified as ‘workers’, ‘employees’ and ‘self-employed’ – giving all working parents access to the family-friendly rights that help balance work and caring for their family.
“But better rights are meaningless if parents feel they can’t use them – either because they’re terrified of being seen as ‘less committed’, or of getting ‘special treatment’, or both. To kick start the change in workplace culture needed, we must move to a situation where all jobs are designed and advertised flexibly, by default.
“This would prevent the ridiculous situation that sees working parents in the UK scrabbling about for jobs below their skill level because they need to fit work around caring for their children – whilst employers struggle to retain and recruit talented employees. The UK’s working families – and their employers – deserve better.”