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Fix flexible working to help make women's jobs more secure and family friendly - Usdaw tells Labour Women Connected

Date: 19 September 2020 Retail trade union Usdaw has today called on the Government deliver on its commitment to making flexible work the default, to become a day-one right for all workers and for decisions to be challengeable. The union highlights how existing flexible contracts undermine women workers ability to balance work and caring responsibilities and calls for more secure and predictable contracts.
Speaking at a breakout session on tackling challenges in the childcare sector, maternity rights and women as carers at Labour’s online national conference Women Connected, Ruth Cross – Usdaw Equalities Officer said: “Many of our members first went into shop work because it was a job you could do while bringing up a family, but today less than half of our women members say their working hours fit round their care commitments.
 
“Now a job in retail probably means a flexible contract with a guarantee of just 7 hours work a week, but with the requirement to flex up to as many as 36 hours; ideally with at least seven days notice of any change in your hours, but it can be as little as 24 hours and those hours might be withdrawn at the last minute if customer footfall drops off.” 
 
One Usdaw member describes her experience of flexibility: “It is really hard to manage, because one week I am working Sunday and Monday, Thursday and Friday and another week I could be working Monday to Saturday. I only find out two days before the next week starts what I am doing and then have to run round and get all of that child-care in place, which is really difficult even with an army of family to help out.”
 
Ruth continues: “Flexibility like this suits the employer who can reduce and vary hours without constraint, but for our members one sided and unstable flexible hours means a high degree of work life conflict and makes any reliance on formal childcare all but impossible. It’s one of the reasons why Usdaw is campaigning for a guaranteed minimum contract of 16 hours a week and the right to predictable hours of work.
 
“Sarah got in touch with the us because her children normally go to after school clubs and grandparents whilst she works, but neither of those options are available right now and she had been told she had to work her contracted hours or would be dismissed.  
 
“Our discussions about the childcare challenges women face must address not just the day to day needs of women and children but also how we respond when the unexpected happens: Illness, a breakdown in care arrangements, or right now local lockdowns or school closures. Women are being left to solve this intractable dilemma on their own with often no support from the employer and very little from the state.
 
“Women in these situations would need to rely on Time off for Dependants and Parental Leave, but both are unpaid and many women don’t qualify; So there is a huge reliance on family and friends. Over half of our women members aged 50 and over are or rather were regularly providing childcare for their grandchildren, but with the same challenges around lack of control over working hours.
 
“As the economy contracts, the Job Retention Scheme winds down and employers begin to make decisions about job losses; we are concerned that it is women with caring responsibilities and new mothers who will be targeted for redundancy and dismissal. Due to difficulties with their childcare, 46 per cent of mothers made redundant since the crisis began, blame a lack of childcare provision during the pandemic.
 
“Already 125,000 retail jobs have been lost this year most of those job losses have hit women. An urgent priority is to fix flexible working work, to help workers who are having to adapt their family schedules at such short notice to meet work demands.
 
“Government should deliver on its commitment to making flexible work the default. It has to be a day one right for all workers and we need an appeals process that allows workers to scrutinise and challenge the reasons given for rejecting a request.
 
“Working parents and new mothers need stable and predictable hours of work and we need strong trade unions so that working parents know their rights are not afraid to use them and get the support they need to enforce them. Otherwise women will pay the price for the current crisis and decades of progress on women’s equality at work will have been lost.”
 
Notes for editors:
 
Usdaw (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers) is the UK's fifth biggest trade union with over 400,000 members. Membership has increased by more than one-third over the last couple of decades. Most Usdaw members work in the retail sector, but the union also has many members in transport, distribution, food manufacturing, chemicals and other trades.
 
For Usdaw press releases visit: http://www.usdaw.org.uk/news and you can follow us on Twitter @UsdawUnion

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The official website of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers