Living and working in the United Kingdom

31 Märts 2021

Data source: Eurostat

Eurofound provides research, data and analysis on a wide range of social and work-related topics. This information is largely comparative, but also offers country-specific information for each of the EU Member States, which included the UK prior to its withdrawal from the European Union on 31 January 2020. Most information is available in English but some has been translated to facilitate access at national level.

Research carried out prior to 31 January 2020, and published subsequently, may include data relating to the 28 EU Member States. Following this date, research only takes into account the 27 EU Member States (EU28 minus the UK), unless specified otherwise.

This country page gives access to Eurofound's relevant survey data and news directly related to the United Kingdom, prior to its EU withdrawal:


2015 Eurofound EWCS survey results in the United Kingdom: 89% of people are satisfied with working conditions in their job

Living and working in the United Kingdom and COVID-19

COVID-19 continues to have a profound impact on people’s lives across the globe, with major implications for quality of life and work. Eurofound has taken a multipronged response to the pandemic, adapting its research focus in a variety of ways. A database of national-level policy responses, EU PolicyWatch, collates information on measures taken by government and social partners, as well as company practices, aiming to cushion the effects of the crisis. 

Explore our data pages by country to find out more on the situation in the UK.

Survey results

Ability to choose or change
methods of work

Data source: 2015 EWCS survey

Possibility to accumulate overtime
for days off

Data source: 2013 ECS survey

Recent developments

Related content

More resources on the United Kingdom

Other country-specific information may be available in certain areas on demand. Please feel free to contact your country contact at Eurofound for this or any other information at

Living in the United Kingdom

Quality of life

Quality of life

The United Kingdom ranked well in most indicators for quality of life, particularly in relation to life satisfaction, optimism about the future, mental wellbeing and the ability to make ends meet. Particularly in relation to the latter, there was a significant decline in the number of people expressing difficulty in ability to make ends meet on 2011 levels, when 37% expressed some difficulty in this regard; by 2016 this had declined to 22%. There was also a relatively significant increase in the proportion of people who said that they were free to decide how to live their lives: one third of respondents felt they could lead their lives as they wanted, up from 27% in 2011, and above the EU average of 26%.

However, the UK is one of the 12 EU countries where optimism regarding the future for next generations (64% optimistic) is at lower rate in comparison to respondents’ optimism about their own future (74%).

Life satisfactionMean (1-10)

Taking all things together on a scale of 1 to 10,

how happy would you say you are?

Mean (1-10)
Optimism about own futureAgree & strongly agree---74%
Optimism about children’s or grandchildren’s futureAgree & strongly agree---64%
Take part in sports or physical exerciseAt least once a week--47%51%
In general, how is your health?Very good-24%26%31%
WHO-5 mental wellbeing indexMean (1-100)-615963
Making ends meet

With some difficulty, difficulty,

and great difficulty

I feel I am free to decide how to live my lifeStrongly agree--27%33%

I find it difficult to deal with important problems

that come up in my life

Agree & strongly agree---22%

When things go wrong in my life, it generally takes me

a long time to get back to normal

Agree & strongly agree---24%

Work-life balance

Work-life balance

There is evidence of a decline in work-life balance in the United Kingdom between 2011 and 2016. Two-thirds of respondents to the survey expressed that they come home too tired to do household jobs several times per month. This was disproportionately the case for women; seven out ten women said they find themselves in this situation, compared to 62% of men. This represents an increase for both men and women since 2011 and is above the EU average.

There was also a marked increase in the proportion of people that felt that it was difficult to fulfil family responsibilities due to the amount of time spent at work. In total 37% of workers surveyed said they found themselves in this situation several times per month, a 9 percentage point increase on 2011 levels, with a more pronounced increase among men.

(At least several times a month)   

I have come home from work too tired

to do some of the household jobs which need to be done


It has been difficult for me to fulfil my family responsibilities

because of the amount of time I spend on the job


I have found it difficult to concentrate at work

because of my family responsibilities


Quality of society

Quality of society

Results with regards to quality of society were mixed. Although the UK was close to EU averages in most areas, there is evidence of a decline in trust in people since 2003. At the same time, there was a small increase in tension between different racial and ethnic groups between 2011 and 2016, although these are still down on 2003 when over half the people surveyed expressed that they felt there was a ‘lot of tension’. 

Social exclusion indexMean (1-5)-
Trust in peopleMean (1-10)
Involvement in unpaid voluntary work% "at least once a month"--15%12%
Tension between poor and rich people% reporting 'a lot of tension'24%17%31%29%
Tension between different racial and ethnic groups% reporting 'a lot of tension'51%42%40%42%
I feel safe when I walk alone after darkStrongly agree---28%

Quality of public services

Quality of public services

Quality ratings for seven public services

Note: scale of 1-10, Source: EQLS 2016.

Reported quality of public services for the United Kingdom was broadly consistent with 2011 levels and close to EU averages in most areas. 

Health servicesMean (1-10)
Education systemMean (1-10)
Public transportMean (1-10)
Childcare servicesMean (1-10)-
Long-term care servicesMean (1-10)--5.85.7
Social housingMean (1-10)--5.55.4
State pension systemMean (1-10)

Working life in the United Kingdom


  • Autor: Claire Evans and Duncan Adam
  • Institution: University of Warwick
  • Published on: Esmaspäev, November 18, 2019

This profile describes the key characteristics of working life in the United Kingdom, prior to its withdrawal from the European Union on 31 January 2020. It aims to complement other EurWORK research by providing the relevant background information on the structures, institutions and relevant regulations regarding working life. This includes indicators, data and regulatory systems on the following aspects: actors and institutions, collective and individual employment relations, health and well-being, pay, working time, skills and training, and equality and non-discrimination at work. 


Highlights – Working life in 2020

Highlights – Working life in 2020

Author: Claire Evans  
Institution: University of Warwick
Highlights updated on:  16 March 2021
Working paper: UK: Working life in the COVID-19 pandemic 2020

There has been much criticism of the UK government’s initial slow response to the emerging pandemic and the subsequent series of failures (for example, lack of personal protective equipment for healthcare workers, lack of ventilators, failures in the testing and the ‘track and trace’ systems, the comprehensive relaxation of restrictions in the summer months and the failure to move quickly and fully into lockdown in the wake of the new and more contagious variant in the ‘second wave’). Indeed, the UK now has the highest COVID-19 death rate per capita in the world. On a more positive note, the vaccination programme is being rolled out effectively and swiftly, offering scope for greater optimism about the future. Moreover, the financial support made available for businesses, workers and citizens has been on an unprecedented scale, with a total cost of around GBP 280 billion in 2020.

From a review of reported social dialogue by the peak-level employer and trade union organisations, the Confederation of British Industries and Trades Union Congress (TUC), over the course of the unfolding pandemic, it also seems that there was a significant increase in such activity, at least during the first lockdown. The involvement of business groups is to be expected; however, on the labour side, the TUC has reported regular engagement with the government and business groups throughout the pandemic. It outlined how it secured a number of important concessions, such as the introduction of the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme, modifications to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and improvements to social security payments and worker health and safety; it also facilitated dialogue between the government and sector-specific unions. The establishment of a new COVID-19 Response School Stakeholder Advisory Group in June 2020 is a good illustration of the increased and more formalised social dialogue, although it remains to be seen how long such new institutions will be sustainable.

On the subject of sustainable recovery, the ten-point plan for a ‘ green industrial revolution’, which has pledged an investment programme of GBP 12 billion for green economic regeneration following the pandemic, appears to be a promising development. There has also been investment in skills development, particularly for younger people, including in apprenticeships and work placements in the form of the Kickstart programme. However, the extent and efficacy of such measures has been questioned.

The disruption caused by the pandemic has also prompted a review of social protection. Support has been provided for self-employed people, who are usually excluded. The temporary changes to the welfare system – made to mitigate the impact of the crisis on those who are less well off – were long overdue. The increase in the cash payment followed four years of benefit freezes, preceded by three years of only a 1% increase annually. Benefit rates for those out of work, particularly those without children, had become historically low. The Chancellor is already facing a growing surge of opinion, including from some Conservative backbenchers, that these temporary changes need to be made permanent, a view to which the cross-party committee has now added its voice.

Of course, it remains to be seen whether such policy shifts and increased levels of investment continue over the longer term. An additional, highly significant – and currently underreported – element is the widely predicted economic fallout that will doubtless ensue from the UK’s departure from the EU. At this time (March 2021), the future looks highly uncertain.

Key figures

Key figures

Comparative figures on working life in United Kingdom




% (point) change 2012-2018


United Kingdom


United Kingdom


United Kingdom


GDP per capita







Unemployment rate – total







Unemployment rate - women







Unemployment rate - men







Unemployment rate - youth







Employment rate – total







Employment rate - women







Employment rate - men







Employment rate - youth







Source: Eurostat - Real GDP per capita (chain linked volumes [2010], in EUR) and percentage change 2012–2018 (both based on tsdec100). Unemployment rate by sex and age - annual average, % [une_rt_a]; Employment rate by sex and age - annual average, % [lfsi_emp_a].



Economic and labour market context

Between 2012 and 2018, UK GDP increased 8%, below the EU average of 9.73% for the same period. Unemployment rates decreased in all categories, especially for young people, falling 9.9 percentage points and reaching 11.3% in 2018, below the EU average of 15.2% for that year. Employment rates over the six years remained above the EU averages. The biggest increase was in women’s employment, which rose 3 percentage points between 2012 and 2018, close to the EU average increase; it stood at 73.2% in 2018, when the EU average was 68.3% for the same category of workers.

More information on:

Legal context

There are various UK acts covering UK employment and trade union law.

The main legislation covering British labour law is the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, which sets out definitions related to trade unions and how they may operate. Statutory trade union recognition procedure was introduced in the Employment Relations Act 1999.

Collective bargaining is not regulated by UK labour law as such. Parties enter into collective agreements voluntarily. Collective agreements are not legally binding in themselves, though in practice terms agreed through collective bargaining may be written into individual contracts of employment, which are legally binding.

There were no major changes to the laws relating to representation and collective bargaining throughout 2016, although changes to trade union law and further limitations on strike action have been implemented as a result of the Trade Union Act, introduced under the leadership of David Cameron in 2015. This controversial Act came into force on 1 March 2017. The Act introduced restrictive changes to strike ballots, industrial action and picketing, as well as creating reserve powers for future curbs on facility time (see below); placed additional constraints on unions’ political funds and increased the Certification Officer’s (CO) powers.

Regarding balloting, there are new rules on the content to be included on the ballot paper and the provision of information on that ballot. The required notice that unions must give to employers of impending action is now fourteen days. The authorisation for industrial action given by a ‘Yes’ vote now has an expiry date. After six months from the date of the ballot (or up to nine months if agreed by union and employer) unions will have to re-ballot members to stage further action. There are now new turnout thresholds: there is a fifty per cent turnout requirement for all ballots. So whereas in the past, a ‘Yes’ vote by a majority of those union members returning ballots was sufficient to authorise industrial action, at least 50% of all those entitled to vote must now do so for any resulting action to be authorised. In ‘important public services’ (including health, transport, education, border security and fire), even more stringent thresholds will apply. Under the new requirements 40% of all those entitled to vote must vote ‘Yes’ to authorise any industrial action.

In relation to picketing, it is now a requirement for a union to appoint a supervisor to oversee any picketing for picketing to qualify for protection. This will apply to picketing where notification is given to the employer from 1 March. The appointed picket supervisor must be an official, or member of the union who is familiar with the picketing code of practice; take appropriate steps to tell the police their name, contact information, picket locations (or the union may provide this information); be provided with a letter stating that the picketing is approved by the union, which must be shown to the employer on request; be present where the picketing is taking place, or be able to attend at short notice; and wear something identifying them as the picket supervisor (such as a badge or armband).

The Act also changes the law regulating the operation of union political funds, with potentially adverse effects on the finances of the opposition Labour party. Members joining a trade union from 1 March 2018 will need to opt in to make contributions to a union’s political fund (and will be able to opt-out at any time). Also, where a union spends more than £2,000 per annum from its political funds it needs to provide details of that expenditure in its annual return to the Certification Officer.

On 10 March 2018, regulations published under Section 15 of the Act came into force – the Trade Union (Deduction of Union Subscriptions from Wages in the Public Sector) Regulations 2017. These apply to ‘check off’ arrangements i.e. the deduction of union subscriptions from a worker’s pay. Section 15 of the Act permits public sector employers to provide ‘check off’ only if their workers have the option to pay union subscriptions by other means; and, also, arrangements have been made to make reasonable payments to the employer for making the deductions.

Public authorities encompassed are (a) any department of the Government of the UK; (b) the Scottish ministers; and (c) any of the 191 public authorities listed in the schedule. This schedule comprises local authorities, the NHS, maintained schools and other educational institutions, police staff and 147 ‘other bodies’.

Industrial relations context

The system of industrial relations in the UK is characterised by voluntary relations between the social partners, with a minimal level of interference from the state. There is a high level of decentralisation and a low level of coordination in relation to collective bargaining, with most taking place at the workplace or establishment level. Since 1999 statutory procedures have existed for establishing trade union recognition, though voluntary agreements have predominated.

Throughout the 1980s, the Conservative governments pursued an anti-trade union agenda by imposing legal restrictions on trade unions’ ability to engage in industrial action and by privatising many areas of the public sector. During this time, many sectoral collective agreements in the private sector were dismantled and trade union membership fell markedly. The New Labour government elected in 1997 was more conciliatory towards the trade unions, though the approach throughout Labour’s period of office relied mainly on using individual legal employment rights to protect workers. Since 2010, when the Coalition government was elected, the ability to challenge employer behaviour has been restricted: settlement agreements have been promoted, fees were introduced to access the tribunal system (although following a lengthy but ultimately successful legal challenge by the UNISON trade union, these were deemed unlawful in July 2017) and pre-claim conciliation must now be considered. Mediation has also been promoted as a means of dispute resolution. Moreover, some of the previously established individual employment rights have been diminished. The most important is the increase in the qualifying period of service required before an employee can make a claim for unfair dismissal, which increased from one year to two years.

Further, following the general election in May 2015 where the Conservative Party formed a majority government, the controversial Trade Union Act was passed in 2016, coming into force on 1 March 2017.

Actors and institutions

Actors and institutions

Trade unions, employers’ organisations and public institutions play a key role in the governance of the employment relationship, working conditions and industrial relations structures. They are interlocking parts in a multilevel system of governance that includes the European, national, sectoral, regional (provincial or local) and company levels. This section looks into the main actors and institutions and their role in the United Kingdom.

Public authorities involved in regulating working life

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) is the main body, established by statute, involved in conciliation and arbitration in the UK. It is overseen by an independent council and its task is to improve industrial relations. It is involved in both individual and collective conciliation. In 2013 the introduction of compulsory early conciliation as a prerequisite for making an employment tribunal claim increased Acas’s involvement with individual cases.

The Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) is a tribunal non-departmental government body, sponsored by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS). Its role is to resolve collective disputes in England, Scotland and Wales either by voluntary agreement, or if necessary, by a legal decision. For example, the CAC may rule on trade union recognition, establishing consultative committees or collective bargaining processes.

The position of Certification Officer (CO) was established in 1975. Although the Certification Officer is a wholly independent statutory office, Acas is responsible for providing its finance, staff and support services. The Certification Officer has responsibility for a range of functions including the maintenance of lists of trade unions and employers’ associations; the determination of complaints from union members against their unions relating to alleged breaches of statutory duties and some types of union rules; determining union independence; ensuring that annual returns are made; the supervision of mergers, as well as of political fund ballots ; and, finally, the investigation of alleged financial irregularities. The recent Trade Union Act has meant a change in the formerly neutral role of the CO, conferring new powers on the CO, which can now launch its own investigations into a wide range of union internal affairs, such as administration, finances, elections and ballots. The CO will have the power to impose enforcement orders and fines on unions of up £20,000. Moreover, it will be funded by a levy on unions. . The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is the national independent watchdog for work- related health, safety and illness. It acts in the public interest to reduce work-related death and serious injury across Great Britain’s workplaces. The HSE is an executive non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).


The issue of representativeness is largely unregulated in the UK. Formal ‘representativeness’ criteria for trade unions and employer bodies are generally not used. Representation is conducted largely on a voluntary basis, and is most commonly conducted at the workplace level.

The TUC represents approximately 5.5 million members in 48 affiliated unions (TUC, 2019). However, the TUC does not conclude or have the power to conclude collective agreements at any level (there are further trade union members of unions that are not affiliated to the TUC).

Similarly, the CBI has no role in collective bargaining. In a few sectors, such as construction, employers’ organisations are involved in sectoral-level collective bargaining, but this is unusual. Due to the largely decentralised nature of employment relations in the UK, employer organisations do not have a particularly prominent role in the country’s industrial relations.

More information on representativeness of the main social partner organisations can be found in Eurofound’s sectoral representativeness studies.

Topic: Representativeness

Trade unions

About trade union representation

Any worker or employee can join a trade union. In practice, employees or workers can join any union, which may or may not be recognised at their place of employment. As noted, the practice of recognition is largely voluntary.

Trade union membership is voluntary; the closed shop has been illegal in the UK since the Employment Act of 1990. The latest data available from BEIS/ONS shows that total union membership stood at around 6.2 million in 2017 (BEIS, 2018), with the level of union members increasing slightly by 19,000 over the year from 2016 (a 0.3% increase).

Alongside the marginal rise in trade union membership levels, there was a sharper increase in the number of UK employees between 2016 and 2017. As a result, the proportion of employees who were trade union members fell to 23.2% in 2017, from 23.5% in 2016 (and down from 24.7% in 2015).

Since 1995, trade union density has decreased quite markedly. Over this period, the proportion of employees who were trade union members in the UK has decreased 9.2 percentage points, from 32.4% in 1995.

Union membership levels and density vary considerably by sector. BEIS/ONS figures for 2017 indicate union membership levels of 2.7 million in the private sector, an increase of 70,000 since 2016. Union density in the private sector stood at 13.5% in 2017, a slight increase from 13.4% in 2016, following a fall from 13.9% in 2015. In the public sector, union membership levels fell by 209,000 to 3.5 million in 2017, with density falling from 52.7% in 2016 to 51.8% in 2017 (BEIS, 2018). The changes were statistically significant.

Trade union membership and trade union density









Trade union density in terms of active employees







OECD/Visser (2014)

Trade union membership in 1,000s



6.458 million

(ONS, 2018)

6.5 million

(ONS, 2018)

6.216 million

(ONS, 2018)

6.235 million

(ONS, 2018)

OECD/Visser (2014)

Main trade union confederations and federations

As noted, trade union membership is significantly lower than it was at its 1979 peak. In response to falling numbers, there have been a number of union mergers over recent years, resulting in the formation of some large general unions.

The TUC website notes that there are now 48 trade unions affiliated to the TUC in the UK (down from 49 in 2018) (TUC, 2019). The annual report of the Certification Officer for trade unions and employers’ organisations for 2017–2018 notes that as at 31 March 2018, there were 146 trade union organisations (down from 150 in 2017 and compared with 226 in 2000 and 306 in 1990) (Certification Office for Trade Unions and Employers’ Associations, 2018).

Main trade union confederations and federations

Long name


Members as of January 2017

Involved in collective bargaining

Trades Union Congress




Note: Membership figures are as reported to the TUC for January 2016 and are taken from the TUC Directory 2016.

There have been no major changes in terms of representativeness. Union mergers were more common approximately 10 years ago, when larger general unions were formed in response to falling union numbers. There have been minor changes in whether or not unions choose to affiliate to the TUC.

Employers’ organisations

About employers’ representation

The TUC is paralleled on the employers’ side by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI). Like the TUC, the CBI has no mandate to collectively bargain and bind its affiliates. In general, the CBI represents companies in the private sector and is regarded by the government as its main interlocutor with business. Its membership comprises trade associations (around 140 currently) and individual companies (usually of medium and large size) as direct members – the CBI claims to represent around 190,000 businesses, employing nearly 7 million people, in the UK. Other employers’ organisations operating in the UK include the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) and the Forum of Private Business (FPB). These organisations provide smaller businesses with a link to national and regional government and provide business advice and support. Current employer organisations that do engage in social and employment affairs include the Engineering Employers’ Federation (EEF) and the Local Government Association (LGA). Employer organisation density in the UK is estimated at around 30–40%. Compared with trade unions, the level of information regarding employers’ organisations is poor.

The annual report of the Certification Officer for trade unions and employers’ organisations for 2017–2018 notes that as at 31 March 2018, there were 91 employers’ associations, the same number as at the end of the previous reporting period (2016–2017).

Employers’ organisations – membership and density








Employers’ organisation density in terms of active employees

No data

No data

No data

No data

No data

Visser (2014)

Employers’ organisation density in private sector establishments*






European Company Survey 2013

* Percentage of employees working in an establishment that is a member of any employer organisation that is involved in collective bargaining.

Main employers’ organisations and confederations

Long name




Involved in collective bargaining

Confederation of British Industry


Around 7 million in approximately 190,000 businesses

2017 (CBI Annual Report and Accounts 2017)


British Chambers of Commerce


Over 5 million employees organised across 52 chambers

Current – from the BCC website


Tripartite and bipartite bodies and concertation

Owing to the UK voluntarist tradition, policy concertation has been uncommon and there are currently few formal mechanisms or forums for tripartite concertation in the country. From 1962, a tripartite National Economic Development Council existed, in which the government and UK social partners discussed economic policy, but this was abolished in 1992. In the late 1970s, consultation between the government, employers and trade unions was also growing in importance. However, the Thatcher government, which was elected in 1979, sought to eradicate any forms of corporatism. Since then, tripartism or corporatism has not been reintroduced on a comprehensive or formal basis.

The social partners’ report reduced tripartite engagement since the election of the coalition Conservative and Liberal Democrat government in 2010 (interviews were conducted with representatives of TUC and CBI in both 2016 and 2017 as part of Eurofound research on the ‘Role of social partners in the European Semester’). They continue to be consulted by the public authorities on the direction of public policy in the country on an ad hoc basis, but such consultations are usually bilateral. The social partners in effect receive de facto recognition of their position by the government through their involvement in various consultations with government departments.

There is de facto tripartite representation in a series of agencies, and though the peak-level social partners are consulted about the nomination of employer and worker representatives on the boards of such bodies, they no longer have an automatic monopoly of the available seats.

For example, the social partners are represented on the Low Pay Commission (LPC), an independent UK body that issues recommendations for increases in the national minimum wage. The LPC board consists of nine members: three trade union representatives, three employers and three labour market relations experts.

The LPC receives a remit from government each year, which outlines the issues it is to consider. The LPC publishes its response in a report to government each October, which contains its recommendations on the future level of the National Living Wage and National Minimum Wage rates, and related matters.

In considering the issues in the remit, the LPC completes detailed analysis of the evidence before making any recommendations. It takes an open and consultative approach to its work. The information it uses is gathered through wide-ranging research and consultations, including visits, discussions with businesses, workers, representative bodies, government and academics. In reporting to the government, the LPC explains the procedures it used, along with the reasons for its recommendations.

At the sectoral level, the UK social partners are involved in the sector skills councils (SSCs), which seek to improve the skills of workers in the UK. The SSCs are ‘employer-led’, although they actively involve trade unions, professional bodies and other key stakeholders in consultations over skill needs in particular sectors and how these will be best met.

The main issues for concertation are therefore skills and training and low pay.

Main tripartite and bipartite bodies




Issues covered

Low Pay Commission





Workplace-level employee representation

The main workplace-level channel of employee representation in the UK is via the recognition of trade unions by employers for the purposes of collective bargaining. The most authoritative UK study of workplace-level structures is the Workplace Employment Relations Survey (WERS).

According to the 2011 WERS, 22% of workplaces with five or more employees recognised at least one trade union. The incidence of union recognition is much higher in larger workplaces, and increased between the 2004 and 2011 WERS. In 2004, 44% of workplaces with 50 or more employees had union representation, and in 2011 this had increased to 50%. In addition, membership in the public sector was much higher in 2011; at 92%, compared with 12% for private sector services and 9% for private sector manufacturing. The extent of union recognition has declined continually from the early 1980s.

Another channel of employee representation in some workplaces is that of joint consultative committees (JCCs), which are sometimes known as works councils or employee forums. These are broadly concerned with consultation rather than negotiation. Although in some cases JCCs are an alternative to, or substitute for, union representation, they are also prevalent in workplaces that recognise unions. The WERS 2004 found that JCCs were present in 14% of workplaces with over 50 staff. This number fell to 13% in 2011. Again, JCCs were more common in public sector workplaces and in larger workplaces. The proportion of workplaces with JCCs has been falling since the late 1980s, but between 1998 and 2004 the decline was primarily evident in workplaces with fewer than 100 employees; among larger workplaces, the incidence of JCCs was broadly stable. Between 2004 and 2011 the number of workplaces employing between 100 and 249 people with an on-site joint consultative committee doubled from 9% to 18%, but there were no statistically significant changes for other workplaces.

The primary basis for both union recognition and the establishment of JCCs has traditionally been voluntary agreement. However, since 1999 in the case of trade union recognition and 2004 in the case of information and consultation (ICE) arrangements, legislation has existed in the UK enabling unions and employees, respectively, to use statutory procedures to seek the introduction of representation arrangements where they are not established voluntarily. In practice, though, the effect of the legislation may have been ‘legally prompted voluntarism’. Trade unions naturally prefer recognition rather than seats on JCCs, which may explain why trade union response to the ICE regulations has been somewhat ambivalent.

Regulation, composition and competences of the bodies




Competences of the body

Involved in company level collective bargaining?

Thresholds/rules when they need to be/can be set up

Joint consultative committees (JCCs)

Not usually. JCCs may be set up according to statutory procedures, but the vast majority are voluntary. The Information and Consultation of Employees (ICE) regulations are part of the Employment Relations Act 2004.

JCCs must include representatives from management and employees. Employee representatives can be trade union representatives.

The issues covered in JCC consultation are determined by the committees themselves rather than specified by legislation. The key is that these are consultative arrangements. They are not collective bargaining forums, nor are they negotiating meetings.

Most JCCs are set up via voluntary agreement. Trigger mechanisms apply for statutory regulation, but in organisations of 50 or more employees, 10% of employees are required to start the statutory procedures.


Collective bargaining

Collective bargaining

The central concern of employment relations is the collective governance of work and employment. This section looks into collective bargaining in the United Kingdom.

 Bargaining system 

In the UK, the dominant level for the setting of pay and working time is the company or plant level in the private sector. In areas of the public sector – and in a small section of the private sector – sector-level agreements are concluded. In some parts of the public sector, pay levels are determined by pay review bodies (PRBs) that recommend levels to the government. Traditionally, the government has accepted the recommendations of the PRBs, though in the recent case of NHS workers, the recommendations were rejected, prompting industrial action.

There are no national intersectoral agreements in the UK, nor is there any tradition of this, aside from a very brief period in the 1970s. In 2015, the coverage rate of collective agreements in the UK was 27.9%. There is a large discrepancy between the figures for the public and private sectors, with collective bargaining covering 59% of public sector employees in 2016, compared with 14.9% for the private sector (BEIS, 2018).

In line with the UK voluntarist tradition, collective agreements are voluntary instruments that are ‘binding in honour only’. However, the terms of collective agreements are normally incorporated into individual contracts of employment that are then legally enforceable.

Wage bargaining coverage

The most common form of collective bargaining in the UK is at company level. Sectoral- and national-level bargaining are much less common. This pattern is very well-established and has become the status quo as regards collective bargaining since the 1980s.

The WERS 2004 and 2011 provide estimates for the percentage of workplaces where pay is determined via collective bargaining. In 2011, pay was set by multiemployer bargaining in 7% of workplaces, 5% set pay by single employer bargaining and 2% engaged in workplace-level bargaining. Large differences are observed by sector. For the categories of multiemployer bargaining, single employer bargaining and workplace-level bargaining, respectively, the 2011 figures are 43% public, 2% private; 17% public, 3% private; and 1% public, 2% private. The only significant change between 2004 and 2011 was the reduction in multiemployer bargaining in the public sector, which was down from 58% to 43%.

ONS figures continue to show a decline in the proportions of workers who are covered by collective agreements set between trade unions and employers’ organisations. The figures for 2017 show that 26% of workers are covered (a decrease from the 2015 figure of 27.9 %). Aside from this, the proportion covered has been in decline since ONS began this time series in 1996.

Collective wage bargaining coverage of employees from different sources


Percentage of employees covered


All levels


2013 – ECS

All, excluding national level


2013 – ECS

Any level


2010 – SES

Any level between employer and trade union


2015 – ONS

Sources: Eurofound, European Company Survey 2013 (ECS), private sector companies with >10 employees (NACE B–S) – multiple answers possible; Eurostat, Structure of Earnings Survey, companies with >10 employees (NACE B–S), single answer: more than 50% of employees covered by such an agreement. ONS, variable is % of employees whose pay and conditions are agreed in negotiations between the employer and trade union.

Bargaining levels

In the UK, the dominant level for the setting of pay and working time is the company or plant level in the private sector. In areas of the public sector – and in a small section of the private sector – sector-level agreements are concluded.

Levels of collective bargaining, 2017


National level (intersectoral)

Sectoral level

Company level



Working time


Working time


Working time


Principal or dominant level




Important but not dominant level







In the UK, there are no formal mechanisms that link the different levels of bargaining.

Timing of the bargaining rounds

The bargaining round is generally viewed as commencing in the autumn (August) and finishing in the summer (July). Settlements are spread throughout the year, with some concentration between October and April.


No formal mechanisms exist for the coordination of wage bargaining in the UK. However, in practice, trade unions in different companies and sectors often share information with one another, and agreements in certain companies and sectors often act as informal benchmarks for negotiators in other areas.

Extension mechanisms

Collective agreements are not subject to extension and so are subsequently never extended by legislation, and there are no voluntary mechanisms for doing so.

Derogation mechanisms

Given the voluntary nature of the agreements, there is no need for derogations.

Expiry of collective agreements

If agreements expire or are not renegotiated, then in practical terms there is no effect. Given the nature of agreements, they are not legally binding. However, elements of agreements can and are written up into individual terms and conditions of employment, which are legally enforceable. Therefore, in practice the individual contract continues with the terms of the old agreement.

Peace clauses

In the UK, state support for legally binding peace clauses within collective agreements does not exist and has never done so (e.g. Marginson, 2012). There is thus no obligation to hold industrial peace during the validity of a collective agreement. However, in the case of a dispute, there is an expectation that proper procedures would be followed before industrial action was taken. Of course, any ensuing industrial action must conform with legal requirements as regards balloting, notice periods provided etc. in order to remain lawful and not subject to prohibitive court injunctions. Some agreements may contain procedural ‘no strike agreements’ but given the voluntary nature of such agreements, their enforceability is questionable.

Other aspects of working life addressed in collective agreements

Recent evidence in the UK has shown a reduction in the breadth of issues covered by collective bargaining. The 2011 WERS found ‘a significant diminution in the scope of [bargaining]’ since the previous survey in 2004. Comparison between the 2004 and 1998 surveys is not possible because of changes in the instruments. In 2011, of seven issues specified, negotiations occurred on all of these in, or covering, just 3% of private sector workplaces where trade unions were recognised, compared to 8% in 2004, and none of the items had been subject to negotiation in, or covering, 37% of workplaces, as compared with 28% in 2004. By issue, there were substantial declines concerning working hours, holidays, pensions and training, leaving pay as the only issue negotiated over in many workplaces.

Industrial action and disputes

Industrial action and disputes

Legal aspects

Workers and their trade unions in the UK do not enjoy the right to strike per se. Rather, they have protection from common law torts in certain, restricted, circumstances. When workers strike or take other forms of industrial action they will usually, by doing so, be in breach of their contracts of employment or their contracts for services. This means that when trade unions or trade union officials, or others, call for, or otherwise organise, industrial action they are in practice calling for breach, or interference with the performance, of contracts. They may also be interfering with the ability of the employer of those taking the industrial action, and of other employers, to fulfil commercial contracts.

As such, under the common law (case-law developed by the courts as opposed to statute law passed by Parliament), it is unlawful to induce people to break a contract or to interfere with the performance of a contract, or to threaten to do either of these things. Thus, without some special protection, trade unions or trade union officials would face the possibility of legal action being taken against them for inducing breaches of contract every time they called a strike.

The ‘statutory immunities’ were introduced into legislation to stop this happening. They have the effect that trade unions and individuals can, in certain circumstances, organise industrial action without fear of being sued in the courts. It should be noted that the immunities protect principally those who call for, threaten to call for, or otherwise organise industrial action. They do not protect individuals who take industrial action from legal proceedings by their employer for breaking their contracts, although they can in certain circumstances protect them from dismissal.

The available immunities are subject to a number of restrictions. When a trade union or individual calls for, threatens to call for, or otherwise organises industrial action, a number of tests must be satisfied if the union, or other person, calling for or organising the action are to have the protection of the statutory immunities. Immunity will apply only where:

  • There is a trade dispute, and the action is called in contemplation or furtherance of that dispute.
  • A trade union which calls for, or otherwise organises, the action has first held a properly conducted secret ballot.
  • A trade union which calls for, or otherwise organises, the action has provided the required notice of official industrial action to employers likely to be affected, following the ballot (at least seven days). The action is not ‘secondary action’ (unless the act is a call for such industrial action made in the course of peaceful picketing at a picket’s own place of work as the law allows).
  • The action is not intended to promote union closed shop practices, or to prevent employers using non-union firms as suppliers.
  • The action is not in support of any employee dismissed while taking unofficial industrial action. The action does not involve unlawful picketing

The Trade Union Act of 2016 made two significant changes to the law on when a union can call a strike lawfully. To make a strike legitimate, a union will still be required to obtain a majority in favour of strike action out of those who have voted and, in addition:

  • At least 50% of those entitled to vote in a ballot must have voted in all cases.
  • Where those involved in the dispute work in an ‘important public service’ there will be a requirement that 40% of those entitled to vote in the ballot have voted in favour of strike action (in addition to the 50% minimum turnout and simple majority requirements).

‘Important public services’ include health, education of under-17s, transport, border security and fire sectors, as defined in separate regulations. The decommissioning of nuclear installations is also included in the Act but as yet, there are no regulations on those services.

In practice, the most common forms of industrial action are:

  • strikes i.e. the withdrawal of labour and cessation of work
  • action short of a strike, which may include ‘work to rule’, refusal to work outside of strict contractual specifications and/or overtime bans

Industrial action developments 2012–2017








Working days lost per 1,000 employees







Number of strikes







Workers involved (1,000s)







Days lost by reason (1,000s)

Wage disputes: 168

Other (incl. redundancy): 80

Wage disputes: 419

Other (incl. redundancy): 24

Wage disputes: 703

Other (incl. redundancy): 86

Wage disputes: 121

Other (incl. redundancy): 50

Wage disputes: 70

Other (incl. redundancy): 322

Wage disputes: 205



Source: ONS Labour Disputes (Labour disputes;UK;Sic 07;total working days lost;all inds. & services (000's))

Dispute resolution mechanisms

Collective dispute resolution mechanisms

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) is the main body involved in conciliation and arbitration in the UK. It is an autonomous, tripartite body established by statute and its task is to improve industrial relations. The largest part of Acas’s work is individual conciliation, which was extended in 2013 with the introduction of compulsory early conciliation as a prerequisite for making an employment tribunal claim. Arbitration is a relatively small part of its work, mainly because it has no powers to arbitrate without the consent of both sides. Arbitration is neither compulsory nor legally binding.

Individual dispute resolution mechanisms

Individual employees may seek to resolve disputes informally through dispute resolution mechanisms that their employer has in place or they may seek redress through the tribunal system.

Since 6 May 2014, anyone wishing to make a claim to an employment tribunal must first notify Acas in order to provide an opportunity to resolve their dispute through the early conciliation process and without the need for a claim. From 6 April, this service was available on a voluntary basis. Since 2013, fees have been applied to bring cases to an employment tribunal. The introduction of fees was successfully challenged in the courts by the Unison trade union, with fees deemed unlawful by the Supreme Court in July 2017.

Tribunal statistics and early conciliation statistics are available, but because early conciliation is new and the tribunal process has changed markedly since the introduction of fees, there is a major discontinuity in the data.

Statistics on applications to tribunals (notifications) and take-up of early conciliation are available on the Acas website. These figures are difficult to interpret due to the legislative context and the procedure for taking a case to tribunal. For example, the first quarterly update gives the percentage of cases where early conciliation was rejected by either the employer or employee. However, this does not mean that all other cases proceeded to tribunal: some will have been withdrawn, other settlements may have been brokered and some will still be pending.

Use of dispute resolution mechanisms




April 2014 to March 2015

April 2015 to March


April 2016 to March


April 2017 to March 2018






92,251 individual conciliation cases submitted to ACAS

109,364 individual conciliation cases submitted to ACAS

Source: ACAS.

Individual employment relations

Individual employment relations

Individual employment relations are the relationship between the individual worker and their employer. This relationship is shaped by legal regulation and by the outcomes of social partner negotiations over the terms and conditions governing the employment relationship. This section looks into the start and termination of the employment relationship and entitlements and obligations in the United Kingdom.

Start and termination of the employment relationship

Requirements regarding an employment contract

Children are able to undertake some part-time paid employment from the age of 13, or younger in areas such as modelling, television and theatre if they have a performance licence. They may only undertake full-time employment once they have reached the minimum school-leaving age, which is the end of the academic year when they turn 17.

Acas guidelines on contracts of employment state: ‘A contract ‘starts’ as soon as an offer of employment is accepted. Starting work proves that you accept the terms and conditions offered by the employer’ and ‘Most employees are legally entitled to a Written Statement of the main terms and conditions of employment within two calendar months of starting work. This should include details of things like pay, holidays and working hours.’

Dismissal and termination procedures

Employees have the right not to be unfairly dismissed if they have worked for an employer for over two years. If an employee has less than two years’ service, they may claim unfair dismissal in a limited number of circumstances, for example if the dismissal is related to discrimination or a protected disclosure. For a dismissal to be fair in law, it must be for one of the following reasons: conduct, capability, illegality or some other substantial reason. The employer should also have followed the steps laid out in the Acas code of practice for discipline and grievance.

Part of the Acas code of practice sets out that employers should establish their own written procedures to deal with discipline and grievance. In the case of a dismissal, failure to follow or to have a written procedure does not in itself make the dismissal unfair.

Entitlements and obligations

Parental, maternity and paternity leave

Shared Parental Leave replaced Additional Paternity Leave entitlement, although two weeks of paid Paternity Leave continues to be available to qualifying fathers and the partner of a mother or adopter. The Shared Parental Leave (SPL) regulations came into force on 1 December 2014 and apply to eligible parents where a baby is due, or a child is placed for adoption, on or after 5 April 2015.

However, take-up of SPL has been low, with only a small proportion of men eligible to take the leave having exercised the right (CIPD, 2016). Research across 200 organisations by the consultancy My Family Care has revealed that in 40% of the organisations surveyed, no male employees had taken SPL. Moreover, data from HMRC shows that only 3,000 couples took SPL in the first three months of 2016, which equates to 2% of those families in which the mother took maternity leave during this time. This is at the lower end of the government's forecast of an uptake by eligible fathers of between 2% and 8%.

Statutory leave arrangements

Maternity leave

Maximum duration

52 weeks. The earliest point at which leave can begin is 11 weeks before the due date. Two weeks’ leave are compulsory following the birth. (For factory workers, the compulsory leave is four weeks.)


If the mother qualifies, Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) is paid for up to 39 weeks. 90% of average weekly earnings (before tax) are paid for the first six weeks; GBP 145.18 or 90% of average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) is paid for the next 33 weeks.

Who pays?

SMP is paid by the employer, though it can be recouped from the government. Usually the employer can recoup 92% of the amount, though if the company qualifies for Small Employers’ Relief, the full amount – plus 3% for National Insurance contributions – can be claimed back.

Legal basis

The provisions for maternity leave are established through the Maternity and

Parental Leave etc. Regulations 1999 and subsequent amendments.

Parental leave

Maximum duration

Shared parental leave was introduced in the UK for babies born or adopted after 5 April 2015.


The leave is paid at the same level as SMP. It is paid at the same level throughout for 39 weeks. In other words, there is a maximum payment for the first six weeks which does not apply in the case of SMP.

Who pays?

SMP is paid by the employer, though it can be recouped from the government. Usually the employer can recoup 92% of the amount, though if the company qualifies for Small Employers’ Relief, the full amount – plus 3% for National Insurance contributions – can be claimed back.

Legal basis

Shared Parental Leave Regulations 2014

Paternity leave

Maximum duration

There is no mandatory period of paternity leave. Employees are entitled to two weeks’ statutory paid leave. As with all schemes, employers may choose to enhance the period and/or the pay.


The leave is paid at the same level as SMP.

Who pays?

SMP is paid by the employer, though it can be recouped from the government. Usually the employer can recoup 92% of the amount, though if the company qualifies for Small Employers’ Relief, the full amount – plus 3% for National Insurance contributions – can be claimed back.

Legal basis

Statutory Paternity Pay and Statutory Adoption Pay (General) Regulations


Sick leave

Sick pay may be contractual, in which case it may be on the basis of full salary (for a period) or such lesser sum (if any) as the employer deems fit to pay. Entitlement to statutory sick pay (SSP) arises only after three successive days of sickness or, in other words, on the fourth day (whether or not these fall on work days). Only workers who earn at least the lower threshold for National Insurance contributions (GBP 112) are eligible to GBP 92.05 a week (currently). It is payable for a maximum 28 weeks. Since 6 April 2014, employers can no longer recoup SSP. Statutory sick pay is not truly related to earnings (over and above the threshold), but contractual sick pay typically is. Privileged workers (including many in the public sector) may be eligible to full pay for six months followed by half pay for a further six months. This takes the form of the employer ‘topping up’ the statutory rate.

Termination of an employment contract on the grounds of sickness may be legal depending on a range of issues, including whether the employer has followed the Acas code of practice and whether suitable alternative employment has been considered. If the employee is suffering from a disability as defined by the 2010 Equality Act, then the employer is obliged to consider whether ‘reasonable adjustments’ could help the employee return to work before any decision is taken to dismiss.

Retirement age

There is no longer a default retirement age (DRA) for UK employees. Most employees can work for as long as they want. Some employers can set a maximum retirement age if they are able to justify the decision.




Pay: For workers, the reward for work and main source of income; for employers, a cost of production and focus of bargaining and legislation. This section looks into minimum wage setting in the United Kingdom and guides the reader to further material on collective wage bargaining.

Following the 2008 recession, average wages fell almost consistently in real terms until mid-2014. Since then, inflation has been low and wages have been increasing, although still not back to their pre-recession levels. Currently, inflation has increased to around 3% and the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) believes wages could again fall behind in coming months. By May 2017, average weekly pay in the UK was 0.5% lower than the same time a year earlier after inflation was taken into account.

Source: ONS average weekly earnings dataset EARN01 and consumer price inflation time series dataset MM23

Graph source:

In the public sector, pay growth has been restricted since 2011, first by an imposed pay cap for two years, followed by successive pay caps of 1% (intended to last until 2020). Thus, public sector pay has been falling behind the private sector consistently for the last three years. It is currently rising at 1.3% a year, behind inflation and private sector wage growth of 2.2%.

The government has recently lifted the 1% public sector pay cap for police and prison officers and for some occupational groups in the NHS.

Minimum wages

A national minimum wage has been in place in the UK since 1997. The National Living Wage (NLW) was introduced by the Conservative Government in 2015 and came into force on 1 April 2016. To qualify for the National Living Wage, the worker must be over 25 years of age.

The rates are set by the Low Pay Commission (LPC), which advises the government on low pay and recommends appropriate rates. There are five tiers of national minimum wage rates: the National Living Wage rate for those over 25; a rate for those aged between 21 and 24; a rate for those aged between 18 and 20; a rate for those under 18; and an apprentice rate.

The current national minimum wage rates (from April 2018) are:

  • over-25 NLW rate: GBP 7.83 per hour;
  • rate for 21- to 24-year-olds: GBP 7.38 per hour;
  • rate for 18- to 20-year-olds: GBP 5.90 per hour;
  • rate for under-18s: GBP 4.20 an hour;
  • apprentice rate: GBP 3.70 per hour

These are set to rise in April 2019 to:

  • Over-25 hourly rate of £8.21
  • Hourly rate for 21 to 24 year olds of £7.70
  • Hourly rate for 18 to 20 year olds of £6.15
  • Hourly rate of £4.35 for the under-18s
  • Hourly rate of £3.90 for apprentices.

Minimum wages






Adult rate

£6.70 an hour for 21 and over;

£5.30 for 18 to 20 year olds

NLW for the over-25s of £7.20 per hour;

Adult rate (21 to 24) of £6.95

£5.55 for 18 to 20 year olds

£7.50 for the over 25s (NLW rate);

£7.05 for 21- to 24-year-olds;

the rate for 18- to 20-year-olds is GBP 5.60 per hour.

Over-25 NLW rate: GBP 7.83 per hour;

Rate for 21- to 24-year-olds: GBP 7.38 per hour;

Rate for 18- to 20-year-olds: GBP 5.90 per hour;

Youth rate

£3.87 for 16-17 year olds

£4.00 for 16 to 17 year olds

£4.05 for under-18s

£4.20 for under-18s

For more information regarding the level and development of minimum wages, please see:

Collectively agreed pay outcomes

For more detailed information on the most recent outcomes in terms of collectively agreed pay, please see:


Working time

Working time

Working time: ‘Any period during which the worker is working, at the employer’s disposal and carrying out his activities or duties, in accordance with national laws and/or practice’ (Directive 2003/88/EC). This section briefly summarises regulation and issues regarding working time, overtime, part-time work as well as working time flexibility in the United Kingdom.

Working time regulation

The statutory maximum working week is 48 hours, though workers/firms may ‘opt out’ of this limit. The 48-hour maximum is calculated over a reference period which is normally 17 weeks.

Working time has featured as an issue in collective bargaining for many years. In recent years there have been negotiations around reduced hours of work to reduce redundancies.

For more detailed information on working time (including annual leave, statutory and collectively agreed working time), please consult:

Overtime regulation

Overtime in the UK is largely unconstrained, as individual workers may opt out of the 48-hour maximum working week. Health and safety legislation may regulate overtime in certain industries. Collective bargaining, which is most commonly undertaken at the company or establishment level, rarely regulates overtime. Decisions on overtime are more commonly taken on an ad hoc basis.

Part-time work

Part-time work is not defined in legal terms. Full-time workers usually work at least 35 hours per week. Eurostat Labour Force Survey data for 2018 indicate that 23.3% of those employed in the UK are in part-time work. This is a slight decrease from the figure reported for 2012, when 24.4% were employed on a part-time basis. Since the economic crisis, it has been reported in various sources that growth has tended to be concentrated in low-paid and part-time work.

Part-time workers have legal protection against less favourable treatment on the grounds of their part-time status.

Persons employed part-time in the United Kingdom and EU28 (% of total employment)









Total (EU28)








Total (United Kingdom)








Women (EU28)








Women (United Kingdom)








Men (EU28)








Men (United Kingdom)








Source: Eurostat Labour Force Survey [lfsi_pt_a] – Persons employed part-time (20 to 64 years of age) – total and by sex.

As detailed in the table, the proportion of workers employed on part-time contracts is higher in the UK than the EU28 average. This applies to both women and men working part time in the UK. However, the number of part-time female workers in the UK is above the EU28 average. Part-time workers earn less, on average, per hour than their full-time counterparts, which contributes to the gender pay gap. Moreover, women tend to work in occupations (caring, administration) which offer lower salaries – another contributor to the gender pay gap.

Involuntary part-time

Involuntary part-time workers can be defined as those working part time because they could not find a full-time job.

Persons employed in involuntary part-time in the United Kingdom and EU28 (% of total part-time employment)









Total (EU28)








Total (United Kingdom)








Women (EU28)








Women (United Kingdom)








Men (EU28)








Men (United Kingdom)








Source: Eurostat Labour Force Survey [lfsa_eppgai]- involuntary part-time employment as a percentage of the total part-time employment, by sex and age (20 to 64 years of age).

In 2012, it was reported that the number of people in the UK working part time who would prefer to be working full time had doubled over the preceding four years to 1.4 million. The growth of involuntary part-timers or the under-employed was mostly due to the two recessions the UK has gone through since the onset of the international banking and financial crisis. This had increased to 1.5 million in 2015 but by 2017 had fallen to 1 million (albeit a still significant figure). This means that 13% of all part-time workers work in this way because they cannot find a full-time job. This trend of ‘under-employment’ which also encompasses those who wish to work more hours in their current job is one which has increased significantly in the UK in recent years, in parallel with the fall in actual unemployment.

Night work

The UK Government defines staff who regularly work at least 3 hours during the ‘night period’ as night workers. The night period is 11pm to 6am, unless the worker and employer agree a different night period. If they do, it must be 7 hours long and include midnight to 5am. It must be agreed in writing. Staff may also be night workers if there’s a collective agreement (e.g. trade union agreement) that states their work is night work.

Shift work

There is no specific definition of shift work in law, but it usually means:

  • a work activity scheduled outside standard daytime hours, where there may be a handover of duty from one individual or work group to another;
  • a pattern of work where one employee replaces another on the same job within a 24-hour period.

Standard daytime hours are considered as:

  • a work schedule involving an activity during the day, commonly for a period of eight hours
  • between 7.00 am and 7.00 pm. There are usually two periods of work, one in the morning, the other in the afternoon, separated by a lunch-time break

Weekend work

No specific definition exists, but a perusal of relevant legislative sources indicates both Saturday and Sunday are included.

Rest and breaks

The Government uses the definitions specified under the WTD for rest breaks at work, daily rest and weekly rest.

Working time flexibility

On 30 June 2014, the UK government introduced the right to request flexible working. This extended the right to request flexible working to all groups, whereas previously the right to request it had been restricted to those with childcare or other caring commitments. Employers can still refuse requests for business reasons, and in practice many employers operated similar policies prior to the legislation. Therefore, the figures in the table reflect the position under the previous legislation.

Health and well-being

Health and well-being

Maintaining health and well-being should be a high priority for workers and employers alike. Health is an asset closely associated with a person’s quality of life and longevity, as well as their ability to work. A healthy economy depends on a healthy workforce: organisations can experience loss of productivity through the ill-health of their workers. This section looks into psychosocial risks and health and safety in the United Kingdom.

Health and safety at work

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (also referred to as HSWA, the HSW Act, the 1974 Act or HASAWA) is the primary piece of legislation covering occupational health and safety in the United Kingdom. The Health and Safety Executive, with local authorities (and other enforcing authorities) is responsible for enforcing the Act and a number of other Acts and Statutory Instruments relevant to the working environment.

HSE owns a significant amount of primary and secondary legislation. The primary legislation comprises the Acts of Parliament, including the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. The secondary legislation is made up of Statutory Instruments (SIs), often referred to as ‘regulations’. It is enforced by HSE and Local Authorities (LAs). HSE and LAs work locally, regionally and nationally, to common objectives and standards.

The UK data indicates that the number of accidents resulting in at least four days’ absence rose sharply between 2012 and 2013 – by 11.7%, after having been in decline over the three-year period between 2010 and 2012. Between 2013 and 2014, accidents increased by 0.5%. In absolute terms, the accident rate per 1,000 workers has remained fairly constant, after the 8.5% decrease between 2011 and 2012.

Accidents at work, with four days’ absence or more – working days lost











All accidents










Percent change on previous year










Per 1,000 employees










Source: Eurostat, [hsw_mi01] and [lfsa_eegaed].

The UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) provides information on the types of accidents based on the RIDDOR scheme. Regulations on reporting were amended in 2013, meaning that exact year-on-year comparison is not possible. However, the trend is that the rate is falling.

Total reported non-fatal major/specified accidents, 2009–2016
















Non-fatal major accidents (total)








Note: For 2013–2014 onwards, the figures refer to the new category of ‘major or specified injuries’.

Source: HSE 2016.

The UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) provides information on the types of accidents based on the RIDDOR scheme as well as worker self-reports of injuries using the Labour Force Survey data. Regulations on reporting were amended in 2013 (moving from having to report on injuries/accidents resulting in over three-day absences to seven-days and over), meaning that exact year-on-year comparison is not possible. However, the HSE reports that the trend is that major injuries have been falling.

The latest HSE statistics for 2017–2018 state that based on self-reporting in the Labour Force Survey, an estimated 555,000 workers sustained a non-fatal injury at work (down from 609,000 the year before). Of these, 420,000 led to over three days’ absence from work whilst 135,000 led to over seven days’ absence. Based on employer reporting under the RIDDOR regulations (which only includes over-seven days’ injuries and specified injuries, there were 71,062 employee non-fatal injuries, (up from 70,116 in the previous year) (HSE, 2018).

A total of 144 workers were killed at work in 2017–2018.

Psychosocial risks

The HSE monitors risks at work and guidance is produced to deal with psychosocial risks. For example, there are separate guidance documents on stress for organisations, managers and employees. In practice, collective agreements may cover issues such as workloads and rest periods and other issues that are psychosocial risk factors.

The data in the table indicate that of the psychosocial risk factors, high work intensity is the one that is most commonly experienced. In 2000 and 2010, over two-thirds of workers reported working to tight deadlines at least a quarter of the time. In 2015, this had increased to 75%. Approximately one-third of workers reported working more than 10 hours at least once a month for each of the three survey waves. By 2015, this figure had increased to 44% of respondents; an increase of 9 percentage points (a 26% increase). Discrimination was found to be much less common than the other two psychosocial risk factors, with approximately one in twenty workers reporting having experienced this in the 2005 and 2010 surveys. However, this had increased to 7% by 2015.

The data do not give information on the proportions of workers who have experienced risk factors in combination. However, it should be noted that on each of these three measures, conditions as reported by the sample of UK workers have deteriorated between 2010 and 2015.

Skills, learning and employability

Skills, learning and employability

Skills are the passport to employment; the better skilled an individual, the more employable they are. Good skills also tend to secure better-quality jobs and better earnings. This section briefly summarises the system of the United Kingdom for ensuring skills and employability and looks into the extent of training.

National system for ensuring skills and employability

Skills policy in the UK is largely developed through skills councils, which are based on sectors of the economy. These bodies are employer led, though there is often trade union representation. There are currently 16 sector skills councils (SSCs) and five sector skills bodies. These bodies are responsible for working with employers to define skills needs and skills standards in their sectors.

In the case of those in receipt of out-of-work benefits, a condition of benefit eligibility may be referral by the state agency responsible for benefit payments, to training or skill development. In such cases, the training or skill development is often of a generic nature and is not targeted at entry to particular sectors or jobs. The social partners are largely excluded from this process, though there may be involvement from employers or employer groups on local skills boards.


The UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) was the main body responsible for offering guidance on skills and development issues in the UK. UKCES was an executive non-departmental public body, sponsored by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). However, UKCES was closed on 1 March 2017.

Despite this, the following UKCES areas of work have continued and have been or are currently being migrated elsewhere within Government:

  • UK Wide Employer research (such as the Employer Perspectives Survey and the Employer Skills Survey).
  • Standards, Qualifications and Frameworks development (such as National Occupational Standards, Scottish Vocational Qualifications and Apprenticeship Frameworks in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland).

The UK Commission for Employment and Skills also used to own Investors in People. IIP has subsequently become independent and continues as an independent entity.

The figures for paid time off for training reveal a clear association between the proportion of employees who have been able to access this and employee representation at the company or establishment level. The figures for companies with employee representation are similar even when establishment size is taken into consideration. Across all sizes of establishments with employee representation, more than 80% of workplaces gave at least 20% of employees paid time off for training. The figures for establishments that do not have employee representation show lower proportions of employees being able to access training, and the proportions are lowest in smaller establishments. Sixty per cent of establishments with 10–49 employees, and no representation, gave paid time off for training to less than 20% of employees, compared with 41% of establishments with 50–249 employees and 37% of establishments with 250 employees or more.

Work organisation

Work organisation

Work organisation underpins economic and business development and has important consequences for productivity, innovation and working conditions. Eurofound research finds that some types of work organisation are associated with a better quality of work and employment. Therefore, developing or introducing different forms of work organisation are of particular interest because of the expected effects on productivity, efficiency and competitiveness of companies, as well as on workers’ working conditions. Ongoing research by Eurofound, based on EurWORK, the European Working Conditions Survey and the European Company Survey, monitors developments in work organisation.

More information on:

For the United Kingdom, the European Company Survey 2013 shows that between 2010 and 2013, 40% of establishments with 10 or more employees reported changes in the use of technology, 24% introduced changes in ways to coordinate and allocate the work to workers and another 18% saw changes in their working time arrangements.

Equality and non-discrimination at work

Equality and non-discrimination at work

The Equality Act 2010 prohibits discrimination on the grounds of race, gender identity, sex, sexual orientation, religion and belief, marital status and age.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is a non-departmental public body (NDPB), established under the Equality Act 2006 as a corporate body. Its role is to challenge all forms of discrimination and to promote and protect human rights. As such, its remit covers issues relating to equality at work.

Equal pay and gender pay gap

From a legal point of view, the right to equal pay for equal work between men and women is found in the Equality Act 2010.

The Act implies a sex equality clause into everyone’s contract of employment, modifying any term that is less favourable to someone of the opposite sex. The European Commission and the Equality and Human Rights Commission publish codes of practice, which although not legally binding may be used in evidence in equal pay claims.

The law requires a four-stage approach:

  • selecting an appropriate comparator of the opposite sex;
  • proving that the comparator is employed to carry out equal work;
  • comparing the claimant’s and the comparator’s terms and conditions of employment;
  • assessing whether the employer can explain any discrepancy in pay (‘the material factor defence’) and whether the difference is due to sex discrimination.

According to Eurostat data, the gender pay gap in the UK narrowed substantially between 2002 and 2011, from 27.3% to 19.5%. In 2014, however, the gap increased again to 20.9% (Eurostat, 2016; tsdsc340).

The ONS also provides information on the gender pay gap using statistics from the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE). From 2009, the ONS has highlighted the following aspects of the gender pay gap:

  • female full-time employees’ median pay compared with male full-time employees’ median pay
  • female part-time employees’ median pay compared with male part-time employees’ median pay
  • all female employees’ median pay compared with all male employees’ median pay

The latest ASHE estimates (2017) indicate a gender pay gap of 17.9% for all workers, both full and part time, falling slightly from 18.42% in 2017. However, the ONS states that for full-time employees, the gap narrowed to 8.6% in 2018, the lowest level since 1997. The ONS asserts that part-time workers – both men and women – earn less, on average, per hour than their full-time counterparts and as a much higher proportion of women work part time – 41%, compared with only 11% of men – this accounts for the large gender pay gap that exists across all employees.

The TUC has been keen to encourage its member trade unions to include gender issues in collective bargaining. The TUC tracks progress of its affiliates in terms of their equality actions in its biennial equality audit. It reports that unions have achieved most success in negotiating around women’s pay and employment in the last three years, in particular gaining employer agreement to carry out equal pay audits and take steps to improve the pay of the lowest paid, who are predominantly women in many workplaces. Equal pay remains a bargaining priority for most unions. The equality audit also revealed that trade unions have frequently been able to negotiate an extension to the statutory rights to flexible working. Just under half of unions identified that they had negotiated flexible working policies with employers that went beyond the statutory minimum. The TUC biennial equality audit offers many examples of innovative practice to improve gender equality at work.

Employment tribunals can order an employer to carry out an equal pay audit in circumstances where it is clear they have breached the equal pay provisions in the Equality Act 2010. This power came into force on 1 October 2014.

New regulations (the Equality Act [Gender Pay Gap Information] Regulations 2016) on measures requiring large private and voluntary sector employers (those with 250 or more employees) to publish information on the difference in pay between female and male staff came into force on 1 October 2016. The first reports on the pay gap identified at 30 April 2017 were to be published before 30 April 2018. Thereafter, companies need to report annually. Questions as to efficacy have been raised, as the government has chosen not to include enforcement measures or sanctions in the regulations, apparently relying on ‘competition and peer pressure’ and potential reputational embarrassment to ensure compliance. Moreover, large group organisations may find they are not subject to the regulations as there is currently no obligation to aggregate employees in individual subsidiary or service companies: the reporting requirement only relates to individual employers.

Quota regulations

The idea of quotas for women on company boards has been discussed and was the subject of a review, which decided not to recommend quotas at the time, though this option would be considered if further progress towards greater equality was not made (BIS, 2011). The Women on Boards Steering Group meets every six months to review progress and reports are produced annually. Moreover, in 2015, a five-year review was published by the Steering Group. In 2010, a voluntary target had been set with the aim of increasing the representation of women on FTSE 100 boards to at least 25% by 2015. The review was published in October, stating that the target has been met (Women on Boards, 2015). It reports that the representation of women on FTSE 350 boards has more than doubled since 2010, currently standing at 26.1% on FTSE 100 boards and 19.6% on FTSE 250 boards. The Review also reports on a reduction in the number of all-male boards. There were 152 in 2011 but by 2016, there were no all-male boards in the FTSE 100 and only 15 in the FTSE 250.

According to the Equality Act, setting quotas would count as positive discrimination, which would be unlawful. However, it is not unlawful for an employer to treat, for example, a disabled person more favourably than a non- disabled person. This is known as positive action. In relation to disability, the ‘two ticks’ system would guarantee an interview for a job vacancy for every disabled person who met the minimum entry criteria (Government Equalities Office, 2011).



Certification Office for Trade Unions and Employers’ Associations (2017), Annual report of the Certification Officer 2015–2016 , London: BEIS.

CBI (2015) Annual Report and Accounts 2015. London: CBI.

CIPD (2016) ‘Low take-up of Shared Parental Leave is due to pay rate.’ People Management, 9 September.

Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) (2018), Trade Union membership 2017 – Statistical bulletin .

Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) (2011) Women on boards .

Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) (2016) Trade union membership 2015 , Statistical Bulletin, London.

Government Equalities Office (2011), Equality Act 2010: What do I need to know? A quick start guide to using positive action in recruitment and promotion .

HSE (2018), Health and safety at work: Summary statistics for Great Britain 2018 (PDF) London.

TUC (2013), ‘ Involuntary temporary jobs driving rising employment ’, press release.

TUC (2016), TUC Directory 2016 , London.

TUC (2019), The TUC Directory 2019 London.

Visser, J. (2014) ‘ICTWSS database: Database on institutional characteristics of trade unions, wage setting, state intervention and social pacts in 34 countries between 1960 and 2014., Institute for Advanced Labour Studies, AIAS, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam.

van Wanrooy, B., Bewley, H., Bryson, A., Forth, J., Freeth, S., Stokes, L. and Wood, S. (2013) Employment relations in the recession: Findings from the 2011 Workplace Employment Relations Study. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Women on Boards (2015) Improving the Gender Balance on British Boards: The Davies Review Five Year Summary. London: Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

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