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The Forgotten Workers

Pioneering research into the work-life balance of low-paid workers reliant upon more than one job

The work of Dr Andrew Smith, Reader in Human Resources Management and Employment Relations, has already impacted policies across multiple local councils. The research shows that limited available work, low pay and fairness and dignity at work all contribute to what the report calls a unique social phenomenon.

Andrew joined the School in 2011 from the University of East London, where he was Senior Lecturer in Human Resource Management (HRM). Prior to entering academia, he worked for many years in the civil service and was an elected trade union representative of the CPSA and PCS unions. As a mature student, Andrew successfully completed an honours degree in Sociology and a Masters degree in Policy Studies at the University of Sunderland.

Dr Andrew Smith, Reader in Human Resources Management and Employment Relations at the University of Bradford

This research project is the first UK study to critically investigate the working lives and work-life balance complexities of low-paid workers who need to have more than one job in order to make ends meet.

Dr Smith said: "We have interviewed 50 workers, 9 trade union officials and representatives, 6 senior managers and 2 foodbank organisers. All of the participants we interviewed worked complex, long, and fragmented working times. They all had an amalgamation of jobs spread across different workplace locations and temporalities, which creates work extensification. Due to financial pressures and elongated working schedules, many faced well- being issues of stress, exhaustion and some suffered from depression.”

The research, co-led by Prof Jo McBride (Durham University) was conducted in partnership with Kirklees Councillors, the Member of Parliament for Bradford South, the Head of Human Resources at Leeds City Council, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and USDAW the Shopworkers Union, to develop policies and practices to improve the lives of low-paid and precarious workers. The key findings relating to issues around low-pay and insufficient working hours highlighted a dual fragmentation of employment and working time with some low-paid workers needing multiple jobs in order to attempt to make ends meet. Whilst there have been increases in both the National Minimum Wage and the National Living Wage, the interviewees professed to limited job availability, the proliferation of part-time, agency, temporary, seasonal, casual and zero hours contracts. 

Many of the workers experienced their hours being cut by their employers and were subsequently worse off than before the increase to the National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage. Some had even experienced in-work poverty.

Dr Smith added: “Most prominent were issues around zero hours contracts, highly variable working hours, resulting in unstable and unpredictable incomes, together with subsequent work-life ‘balance’ complexities. There are also issues around dignity and fair treatment at work, with many of these workers being excluded from training and development opportunities. Moreover, in terms of work-life balance practices, many of these workers are regarded as ‘peripheral’ staff by line managers in multiple workplaces and excluded from organisational policies, meaning that they are further marginalised.”

Kirklees Council passed a motion based on the research recommendations and have developed policies around low-pay, in-work poverty, and staff benefits packages. Leeds City Council have also utilised the research to expand working hours for part-time staff, enhanced skills training, and financial well-being. The Trades Union Congress and USDAW union have developed practices and campaigns around low-pay and guaranteed working hours to protect precarious workers. The Forgotten Workers project, led by Dr Andrew Smith and Professor Jo McBride (Durham University) commenced in 2015 and is on-going.

Zero hours contract worker in a kitchen preparing food

Andrew and Jo have recently published a plethora of academic and practitioner based articles, most prominently being: