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  • Working-class jobs have less access to homeworking, and flexible hours are more likely to be refused
  • Homeworking is not the only form of flexible working – wider forms of flexible working should be on offer for all workers, says union body
  • TUC challenges ministers to ‘make Britain a world leader for flexible working rights’

New polling in a report published by the TUC today (Friday) reveals an emerging class divide as some workers opt to keep working from home whereas those who can’t work from home have little access to any forms of flexible working. 

The number of workers who work from home has been transformed by the pandemic. Nine out of ten (91%) people who worked from home during the pandemic wish to continue doing their job remotely at least some of the time.

The polling also reveals a significant divide in access to homeworking between higher-paid and working-class occupations. And it finds strong demand for other forms of flexible working from all groups of workers, such as control over working hours.

Increased homeworking for some could create a new class divide

The poll found that people in higher-paid occupations are much more likely to have worked from home during the pandemic (60%) than those in working-class jobs (23%).

The TUC’s research also shows that those who cannot work from home are significantly more likely to be denied flexible working options by employers after the pandemic.

1 in 6 (16%) of employers surveyed say that after the pandemic, they will not offer flexible working opportunities to staff who could not work from home during the pandemic. This compares to 1 in 16 (6%) saying they will not offer flexible working opportunities to those who did work from home in the pandemic.

The TUC says that this shows a new “emerging class divide” in access to jobs that enable workers to balance their working life and other responsibilities, and calls on the government to bring in new flexible working rights for every worker in every job.  

Most workers want to work flexibly

Four out of five (82%) of workers say that they want to take up some form of flexible working in the future.

Flexible working is about hours as well as location. Almost two-thirds (64%) of workers say that they want some form of flexibility in their working hours after the pandemic, including flexi-time (23%), part-time (15%), predictable hours (9%), compressed hours (8%), term-time working (6%) and annualised hours (4%).

But only half of workers (54%) say they have the right in their current job to request a change to their regular working hours to fit around other commitments.

For many workers, what they need to balance work and other responsibilities is predictability in their hours and pattern of work. This is particularly true of those working shifts, or on zero-hours contracts. 

The survey found that one in 10 workers want mutually agreed predictable hours (9%) after the pandemic, rising to one in 8 (13%) for working-class occupations.

The solution: a new right to flexible working in all jobs, for all workers  

Most workers (63%) believe that working people should get flexible working from day one in a job.

In response to the changes brought about by the pandemic, the TUC says that ministers must bring in the right to flexible working for every worker, regardless of where they work or what job they do – and that every job should be advertised with flexible working options clearly displayed. Not every job may be open to all forms of flexible working – but all jobs should be open to some forms. And employers should have far less discretion to refuse flexible working.

The union body says that government must urgently modernise the right to flexible working, bringing forward the long-promised employment bill as quickly as possible to deliver the new rights working people need.

These new rights should include:

  • A right to flexible working for all workers in all jobs, covering the right to work remotely for some, or all of the time, and to greater control over hours – subject to employer rights to refuse only in exceptional circumstances.
  • A duty to include some flexible working options when advertising jobs, with workers having the right to take up the types of flexibility advertised
  • A ban on zero-hours contracts, with fair flexibility guaranteed through a stronger floor of rights on choice of working hours and shift notice.
  • A ‘right to disconnect’, so that all workers are protected from demands to work outside of their contracted hours.
  • Stronger rights for workers to access trade unions and collectively bargain for fair flexible working policies.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

“Working people adapted brilliantly to the challenges of the pandemic. They made sure businesses survived and kept our vital services running.

“Lots of people worked from home – while others went out to work every day. 

“As the UK gets back to normal, lots of workers will want to keep the flexibility of working from home. But no-one, whether they can work from home or not, should miss out on flexible working options that help them do their job and manage their other responsibilities too.

“Government must bring in a new right to flexible working for every worker, in every job. Otherwise people in working-class jobs will miss out – while those who can work from home get the benefits of flexible working.

“This emerging class divide in access to flexible working is no way to thank those workers who carried on doing their job in workplaces throughout the pandemic.

“Ministers should seize the moment and make Britain a world leader in flexible working rights.”

Editors note

- TUC report: The full TUC report The future of flexible work,…

- Polling data 1: Unless otherwise stated below, figures that provide answers from working people are from a YouGov Plc survey of working-age adults. Total sample size was 2,052 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 21st - 24th May 2021. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+). For more information about YouGov go to:

- Polling data 2: Figures for (1) workers saying they have the right to request a change to their regular working hours to fit around other commitments; and (2) workers saying people should get flexible working rights from day one in their job, come from a GQR survey. GQR conducted an online poll of 2,523 respondents aged 16+ in work in Great Britain, between 29th January and 16th February, 2021. Data are weighted to be representative of the national population. For more information about GQR please visit:     

- Polling data 3: Figures that provide answers from employers are from a YouGov plc survey of HR decision-makers, conducted between 4 and 15 May 2021. The total sample size was 1,002 HR decision-makers and questions aimed to find out their plans for offering flexible work options to employees in the future.

- Higher-paid and working-class definition: Polling data showing class differences were obtained using social grade categories ABC1 and C2DE. In the text above, ‘higher-paid workers/occupations’ equates to social grades ABC1; and ‘working-class workers/occupations’ equates to social grades C2DE. For more detailed information on the categories, download this briefing from the Market Research Society.

- Current rules on flexible working: Workers in the UK do not currently have the right to work flexibly – they only have a right to request flexible working. A person must be an employee in post for at least 26 weeks before they can make a request. Employers have very wide scope for refusing requests there is no right for employees to appeal, and they must wait 12 months before they are allowed to make a new request. Before the right to request was introduced in 2013, 74% of employees did not do any form of flexible working. Since the right to request was introduced, this has reduced only slightly to 70%. And only 13% of employees have flexi-time – the most common form of flexible working. This suggests that the right to request has made little difference. (Figures are from the Labour Force Survey.)

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