A new IPPR report has argued that the UK is nearing a ‘pivotal moment’ when new working practices could be adopted across the economy.

Dramatic changes to millions of people’s working hours and routines during the pandemic show how a more innovative approach to work could benefit UK industry – including manufacturing and engineering.

Even before the virus struck, one in five workers in manufacturing industries used some form of flexible working. But in a trade union survey of 1,100 workers in the defence sector, also analysed by IPPR, more than one in three said that since the coronavirus crisis they were working flexible hours, and four in five reported changes to their working practices.

More workers in largely white-collar industries reported before the pandemic that they used flexible working, including 40 per cent of those in public administration, education and health, but the IPPR think tank argues that in these areas, too, the response to the pandemic reveals huge scope for longer-term change.

Among the report’s other findings on working practices before the pandemic are that: as many as two in five workers in manufacturing industries said they would rather work fewer hours; nearly one in three manufacturing workers said they would be willing to work fewer hours even if that meant less pay; flexitime was the most common flexible working arrangement in manufacturing, with one in 10 full-time workers reporting they used it; only one in 50 said they worked other than less than a five-day week; most workers in manufacturing put in between 35 and 44 hours a week. Only one in 10 were part time, and just one in 100 within the shipbuilding industry; and workers in farming, forestry and fishing were the least likely to have flexible working practices.

IPPR makes a series of recommendations to enable the UK to capture the potential of more flexible working practices and reduced working hours during the pandemic for the longer term. These include: extending and improving the flexible furlough scheme to ensure businesses can continue part-time furlough until the economy has sufficiently recovered; opening the scheme to new applicants, including new employees, to protect against job losses and share available work; supporting workers to take up training opportunities during spare hours while on short-time working; businesses and unions to set up ‘reduced working time task forces’ to gauge whether reductions in working time, including a reduced working week, are possible and desirable; and introducing a new bank holiday, in recognition of the contribution of key workers through the pandemic, as the first step in a longer-term plan to increase bank holiday and more flexible annual leave entitlements.

Rachel Statham, IPPR Senior Research Fellow and a co-author of the report, said: “The way people work was already changing before Covid-19, but the past few months have shown how far and how fast innovation is possible – fewer hours, more flexible shifts, more flexibility all round. And it’s not just people in professional and white-collar jobs working from home; factories and engineering companies across the UK have also been operating differently, in ways that suit their workforce and have been designed with them.

“Even as we continue to support the economy to recover from the pandemic crisis, we need to capture those improvements and learn how to be more responsive to the changing needs of the UK’s workforce, including in manufacturing industries, for the long term.”


Original article ‘Flexible hours during coronavirus should become new normal’ Written and Published by Government Business


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