Retail workers’ erratic hours and pay highlighted by union report

Research by Ireland’s Mandate Trade Union suggests that high levels of working time flexibility are being demanded of retail workers. A survey conducted on behalf of the union, which represents 45,000 retail workers, found that over half were employed on part-time contracts and that their working hours were subject to frequent change. In addition, 39% of respondents reported a significant dip in take-home pay over the past year, with the average fall being €109 per week.

Background

A random survey of 500 members of the Mandate Trade Union, which represents workers in the retail and service sectors, was carried out in March and April 2012, and its results were presented by the union in a report, Decent Work? The impact of the recession on low paid workers. The survey was carried out by Behaviour & Attitudes, Ireland’s largest independent research company. Mandate Trade Union represents about 45,000 members in the retail sector in Ireland.

More than half of the survey respondents (56%) said they were employed on a part-time basis, and just one-third had a full-time contract. Student workers comprise 11% of the membership. The survey also found that most respondents (41%) had been working in the retail sector for more than ten years and 31% had been working in the sector for between five and nine years.

Working hours

The report states that the survey ‘provides strong evidence of the high level of flexibility demanded of retail workers’. It was found that ‘over a quarter of Mandate members are contracted to work less than 19 hours a week, while just under a quarter have contracts for 37 or more hours’. The survey found that, on average, Mandate members in the retail sector worked just under 26 hours a week, with men working a longer 31.4 hour week on average, compared to 24.1 hours for women.

Full-time employees worked on average 36.3 hours per week, while part-time workers worked 22.1 hours. Student workers worked an average of 17.3 hours per week.

It was found that the number of days a week worked varied considerably according to the nature of the employment contract. An average full-time employee worked on five days each week, a part-time worker on four days each week, and the average for students was three days. According to the report, the survey also revealed a ‘strong demand’ by workers for additional hours, ‘with six in ten Mandate members willing and able to work extra hours’. Demand for extra hours was particularly strong among part-time employees, who wanted to work an extra seven hours a week, on average.

Two-fifths of all Mandate members questioned stated that their employer changed their weekly working hours at least once a month. Almost half – 45% – of part-time workers surveyed said they had their working hours changed by their employer at least once a month.

Half of the full-time workers questioned had stable working hours, while 30% had their hours changed at least once a month. Over a quarter of those questioned said that they would like more certainty from their employer in relation to their working schedule.

The survey found that over the past year (April 2011–April 2012), retail workers had experienced decreases in their working hours. On average, working hours had fallen by 1.2 hours over the past year, a decrease of 4.3%.

It was found that part-time and student workers had suffered the biggest decrease in working hours. While full-time employees had seen a marginal increase in their hours, part-time workers had lost 1.3 hours per week, a decrease of 5.6%, and students had lost over 2.5 hours per week, a fall of 12.9%.

Pay and stress

Two-fifths of the Mandate members surveyed reported that their take-home pay was lower now than a year ago. On average, weekly take home pay across the Mandate membership had fallen by €109 per week. More than a fifth of members had experienced a fall of more than €110 per week. The survey also found that three quarters of those surveyed were ‘finding it more difficult to cope in general, and were a lot more stressed now than a couple of years ago’.

Precarious work

Mandate is concerned about the possibility of the growing trend towards precarious work in the Irish economy. The union says the research highlights that its members – predominantly female and only one third with full-time contracts – were a prime example of this precarious workforce.

The union wants the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Richard Bruton, to review proposed legislation on the reform of Joint Labour Committees (JLC) and Registered Employment Agreements (REA) ‘as a matter of priority, so as to address the issues raised in this report’. Part of the role of JLCs and REAs has been to set minimum pay and working conditions, such as sick pay, pensions, overtime and unsocial hours, in certain sectors.

The union also wants ‘the incorporation of the EU Directive in relation to part-time work’ in Ireland to be reexamined. The union is calling for:

...a more formal process, requiring employers to justify a decision to deny part-time workers access to longer hours, particularly where an increasing proportion of their workforce is employed on part-time flexible contracts.

Mandate says this would help to provide a ‘better balance between the needs of employees and employers’.

Roisin Farrelly, IRN Publishing

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