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Gradual Improvement in Employment Terms Benefits Lower-Paid Staff in UK

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A Shift in Employment Terms: UK Workers Benefit from Improved Conditions

Workers in lower-paid sectors of the British economy are experiencing improved employment terms since the global pandemic and Brexit forced companies to work harder to find staff in a tight labour market. Employees in the hospitality, retail, logistics, and security sectors are now benefiting from increased flexibility in working hours and better financial support for sick leave or private healthcare, among other perks.

Nick Collins, CEO of Loungers, a company that employs 8,000 staff in restaurants and bars across Britain, acknowledged that expectations of employees had risen. Collins stated, “The combination of Brexit and COVID have transformed the market.” Other major employers, including Amazon UK, Tesco, Marks & Spencer, XPO, and G4S, have also introduced flexible working contracts in response to the changing landscape.

Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reveals that the percentage of workers who are satisfied with their hours has reached its highest level since 2007. The shift towards improved employment terms can be attributed to the tightening labour market, as older people retired early during the pandemic, Europeans returned home after Britain left the EU, and an increasing number of individuals were unable to work due to illness. The scarcity of workers has contributed to Britain’s high inflation rate, which reached 11.1% in October before falling to 6.7% in August.

To retain staff, major employers such as supermarkets, logistics groups, and food chains have raised wages and made counteroffers to prevent employees from seeking employment elsewhere. Regular pay, excluding bonuses, increased by 7.8% in the three months to July compared to the previous year. Despite rising wage costs, Loungers reported continued profit growth and increased staff loyalty. The company offers a range of benefits such as free meals, flexible hours, bonuses, and overtime for salaried employees.

The shift towards improved employment terms is a departure from the previous trend of long hours and poor treatment of staff in the hospitality sector. Chris Lloyd-Rogers, head chef at Loungers’ “Alcampo Lounge” venue in Brighton, noted that the industry used to work staff very hard, with the belief that there would always be someone else to fill the vacancies. However, the departure of many eastern Europeans from the industry following Brexit and the pandemic has led to changes in the way staff are treated.

Tony Wilson, director of the Institute for Employment Studies (IES), highlighted the importance of providing flexibility and job satisfaction to lure back those who had left the workforce. While Britain has a high minimum wage, the country lags behind in terms of minimum employee benefits. Wilson stated, “That’s why people leave work, and it’s what brings people back.” According to recruitment website Indeed, flexible working and sick pay are the most highly valued benefits among job seekers.

Major companies such as M&S and G4S have implemented measures to accommodate workers’ needs. M&S has allowed retail managers to share jobs or work a compressed four-day week, resulting in more women taking up store management roles. Fiona Walters, head of the UK arm of security and outsourcing group G4S, explained that allowing staff to work shorter or split shifts has helped recruit more women and reduced staff turnover.

Despite recent improvements, there is still a significant divide in sick pay and maternity leave benefits between well-paid and low-paid jobs. The Resolution Foundation think-tank emphasized that workers in low-paid jobs receive significantly less support in these areas. However, there has been progress, with the percentage of job postings in the hospitality and tourism industry offering paid sick leave increasing from 4.5% to 8.9% in the last 18 months, according to Indeed data.

As the economy slows, the labour market is showing signs of cooling, raising questions about whether employers will maintain the new approach to hiring and retention. Amit Puntambekar, who runs a supermarket near Cambridge, expressed his struggle to compete with big supermarket chains in attracting staff, despite paying more than the minimum wage. Puntambekar has had to work 90 hours a week and rely on his elderly parents for assistance.

In conclusion, workers in lower-paid sectors of the British economy are benefiting from improved employment terms since the pandemic and Brexit created a tighter labour market. Major employers are offering increased flexibility and better benefits to attract and retain staff. While progress has been made, there is still work to be done to ensure equitable treatment for all workers. The shifting landscape of employment terms will likely continue as the country’s ageing population and tighter immigration controls shape the labour market.

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