Fewer than half of British employees work 'regular jobs'

October 04, 2001

The popular image of a regular job is one that offers permanent employment and is done at the employer's premises, during the day, and for between 30 and 48 hours a week. But new research from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Future of Work Programme, shows that the majority of British employees do not fit this stereotype. Drawing on a large representative sample of employees from the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS), interviewed annually since 1991, Professor Alison Booth and Dr Marco Francesconi from the Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER) show that:

 Approximately 59% of men and 52% of women in employment in Britain today are in 'non-standard' jobs - ones that are either temporary; or involve working away from the employer's premises; or for less than 30 or more than 48 hours; or not during the regular working day.

 17% of British employees work more than 48 hours a week; 9% work less than 16 hours a week; and 13% work between 16 and 29 hours a week.

 85% of British employees work at their employer's premises; the remainder are either working at home, in more than one place, or travelling. 92% of British employees are on permanent contracts. And around 70% work standard times during the day while the remaining 30% work at other times, including shift work.

 Despite the 'strategy of enlargement' pursued by many trade unions during the 1990s, specifically aimed at recruiting 'non-standard workers', there has been no expansion of union coverage towards any type of non-standard employment. The only trend over time is a continued statistically significant decline in union coverage for all workers, especially for men.

 There are significant gender differences in the distribution of union recognition across employees in non-standard jobs. Women across nearly all types of non-standard jobs are significantly less likely to be union-covered than women in regular employment. But for men, this negative relationship is only found for men working on fixed term contracts, in more than one place or for non-standard hours (less than the standard working week of 30-48 hours).

 There are significant differences in the relationship between non-standard work and union coverage across the private and public sectors. There is greater union coverage for standard public sector men and women than for their non-standard counterparts.

 This picture is likely to change in the near future, as a result of recent government legislation and European Union Directives for non-standard workers. Whether this leads to an increase or a decrease in union coverage of non-standard workers remains to be seen - the various new provisions could act as either a substitute or a complement to the benefits that union organisation conveys to covered workers.
-end-
For Further Information contact:

On Monday 24th September 2001 Marco Francesconi on 01206-873534 (email: mfranc@essex.ac.uk) and Alison Booth, ISER, 01206-873789 (email: albooth@essex.ac.uk).

Or ISER Communications Adviser Romesh Vaitilingam on 0117-983-9770 or 07768-661095 (email: romesh@compuserve.com).

Or contact David Ridley or Lesley Lilley in ESRC External Relations on 01793-413118 or 413119.

Notes for Editors

1. 'Union Coverage for Non-standard Workers in Britain' by Alison Booth and Marco Francesconi will be presented at a symposium on work within the ESRC's £4m Future of Work Programme on 25 September. The authors are at the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) at the University of Essex (www.iser.essex.ac.uk). Other speakers at the conference will include Juan Dolado (Universidad Carlos III, Madrid) on the incidence of temporary employment in Spain which has soared in response to high unemployment; and Bertil Holmlund (Uppsala University) on similar work in Sweden in response to economic turbulence.

2. The ESRC is the UK's largest funding agency for research and postgraduate training relating to social and economic issues. It has a track record of providing high-quality, relevant research to business, the public sector and government. The ESRC invests more than £46 million every year in social science research. At any time, its range of funding schemes may be supporting 2,000 researchers within academic institutions and research policy institutes. It also funds postgraduate training within the social sciences, thereby nurturing the researchers of tomorrow. The ESRC website address is http://www.esrc.ac.uk.

3. The Future of Work Programme was launched by the ESRC in October 1998 and is helping to rectify the gaps in our knowledge. Comprising 27 projects and involving more than one hundred leading researchers across the UK, this is the most systematic and rigorous enquiry of its kind, providing evidence-based research for a better understanding of the changing world of work in a period of rapid social, technological and economic change. For further details about the contact Professor Peter Nolan Tel 0113-233-4504.

Economic & Social Research Council

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