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Millions of night workers won't get a lie-in when the clocks go back

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We depend on Britain’s growing night workforce, so let's ensure they have good rights and protections at work

When the clocks going back tonight, we know that winter is almost here.

At least most people will be able to enjoy an extra hour’s sleep, but spare a thought for the millions of UK workers who won’t be getting a lie-in because they work through the night.

Today we reveal that the number of people working night shifts has increased by nearly 100,000 over the past five years. It now stands at 3.25 million workers – or one in nine of the total UK workforce.

Night workers keep our country running when most people are tucked up in bed.

We want public services like the NHS to carry on doing their vital work. We want lorry drivers to deliver goods to the shops ready for the next morning. And at least some of us want the nightclubs to be open sp that we can party until the small hours

But we also want employers to consider the impact of night work on staff, and make sure their workers are treated fairly.

That’s why we’re clear that decisions to extend night working should always involve talks with unions.

Night working: a tough option

Night work is no easy task. The health problems include heightened risks of heart diseases, diabetes and depression.

That’s bad enough, but night work can also have a negative impact on home life and relationships. Night workers are out of synch with the general rhythm of social life.

And many workers complain that night working makes it difficult to manage their caring responsibilities.

An ageing workforce

Most night workers are still aged between 30 and 49, but this is changing.

Increased employment in social care and the trend towards working later into life mean older people are now driving the increase in night working. Or research shows that care work is now the biggest night working occupation (437,000 care workers).

Increased employment in jobs like social care and other jobs with night work where older workers are clustered is a factor that helps to explain the aging night workforce

The trend towards working later into life is another factor.

The number of night workers aged 65 or over has increased to 69,000 – up by 50% in the past 5 years. In fact, the 49,000 increase in over 60s night working overall accounts for half of the total growth.

The net result is that there are now 924,000 people aged over 50 working at night – up by 173,000 (23%) since 2014.

This rise is bigger than the increase in nightwork for all ages, indicating that the total for under 50s must have fallen slightly.

Time for fair treatment

That means no workers being forced to work nights – and shift patterns that suit individual needs and with sufficient notice is advance.

It also means changing the rules on night working so workers can enforce their rights at Employment Tribunal.

It means employers working with unions to ensure night working is only introduced where absolutely necessary.

And when it is introduced, unions say that workers should get a higher rate of pay to compensate for the extra cost of childcare and inconvenience that results.

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