Young people's experiences of precarious and flexible work – Evidence Review

This evidence review presents findings on young people's experiences of precarious and flexible work. These work conditions included where young people had for example zero hours contracts, low wages, lack of progression opportunities, dissatisfaction with current employment, or varying hours.

Chapter 5: What barriers to changing jobs do young people face if in precarious / flexible employment?

This chapter examines evidence relating to RQ8: What are the barriers that prevent young people who want to change jobs from doing so? Does this differ by contractual status or other potentially precarious or flexible working conditions?

Dissatisfaction with elements of employment amongst workers is consistently highlighted across evidence reviewed.

Research into agency working, for example, estimated that 60% of temporary agency workers would prefer to be in permanent employment (Judge et al., 2016), and the Working Together – Trade union and co-operative innovations for precarious workers report references research stating that 63% of the UK gig economy workforce want basic employment rights and holiday pay that is not currently available to them (Conaty et al., 2018).

Taking the High Road – Work, Wages and Wellbeing in the Scottish Labour Market, which reports an inquiry into the quality of employment in Scotland by the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee for the Scottish Parliament, found that 26% of respondents to an online survey carried out as part of the inquiry classed their jobs as ‘bad’ (39% as a result of low pay, 28% due to poor management, 17% due to hours and 16% because their job was insecure), Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee, 2016.

Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation concluded that: 

“while many workers valued the overall flexibility and convenience offered by low-paid work, they often described their day-to-day experience as stressful, characterised by ever-changing targets, feeling understaffed, overstretched and unsupported by senior management” (Hay, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 2015, summary) 

This research explored the attitudes of low-paid workers, including their attitudes to changing jobs when it came to career progression within their current workplaces. Research found mixed attitudes to career progression, with perceptions of an association between progression and increased stress noted, and, among low-paid workers in the hospitality and retail sectors, it was found that career progression was perceived as being linked to more regular hours and “consequently, much less flexibility compared to the shift working that first attracted them to the industry” with some workers constrained by the need for flexibility and therefore less likely or able to consider leaving their current employment. This evidence is supported by the Decent work for Scotland’s low-paid workers: A job to be done report, in which low-paid workers in Scotland reported limited opportunities for progression in current roles (UWS-Oxfam Partnership, 2016a).

While these reports show that many workers would like to experience improved working conditions and that lack of suitable opportunities may be one barrier to career progression, little other evidence was found exploring what people (and young people specifically) say prevents them from accessing alternative employment, or what assistance they would like to help them to do so.

Accordingly, recommendations made in evidence reviewed were most likely to be around improving working conditions rather than focusing on removing barriers to accessing other forms of employment; for example recommendations around continued work to encourage organisations to become Living Wage employers (Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee, 2016) or increased regulation of potentially precarious employment such as more consistent taxation of labour across different forms of employment etc. as reported in the Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices in 2017. 

Regulation to establish an appropriate balance between flexibility and security of employment is highlighted as lacking in comparison to other European countries by research conducted for the TUC by the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR), which comments that “while insecure work in other European countries has been characterised by the emergence of regulation and policy, the UK has noticeably lacked much needed new legislation. The UK therefore stands out for having very precarious forms of work, and for creating arrangements where workers are at particular risk of insecurity” (Hudson-Sharp, et al., 2017).



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