The Carnegie UK Trust has published a report that looks at how we can ensure the best possible jobs recovery and achieve good work for all in the coronavirus economy. We know that the impact of the pandemic on jobs and livelihoods has been devastating for many. The impact has been softened to an extent by unprecedented labour market interventions, such as the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. These interventions, that were previously unimaginable in our free-market economy, have allowed (or even forced) us to turn our minds to the possibility of building a better labour market.
Research for the report, titled “Good Work for Wellbeing in the Coronavirus Economy”, examined the job quality impacts of the crisis and how we should try to ensure the best possible jobs recovery, sustaining the ambition of good work for all. The report draws from interviews with labour market experts including academics, business and trade union representatives and leading think tanks. The report put forward more than 30 recommendations for the labour market to seek to balance the twin goals of sustaining employment and improving job quality, ensuring work improves wellbeing for many more people.
The recommendations relevant to employers focus on terms of employment, pay, skills and training, health at work, and employee voice and representation. The recommendations are a call to action to the UK government to implement, re-instate or mandate various policies and targets that will translate into actions that employers have to take.
Flexibility is one of the main themes to have emerged from the pandemic and it is reflected extensively in the report. Those who can work from home now have a greater degree of flexibility, whilst those who cannot have virtually none. This is a great disparity and it is borne out in the research. The pandemic has created pressure for employers to require greater flexibility in their contract arrangements for workers which can lead to greater insecurity for workers, especially those whose jobs cannot be done from home. On the other hand, those who can work from home face other challenges with work and home boundaries blurring, as well as a multitude of other consequences as a result. Junior employees lose out on peer relationship development and learning, for example. This will likely deepen inequalities in how people experience work across the labour market. In addition to employers evaluating their approach to flexibility, the report also recommends that employers offer Living Hours as part of a commitment to deliver employment terms and conditions that support greater security.
To reduce income inequality across our labour markets, the report recommends that the UK government deliver on its 2024 minimum wage target of two-thirds of median incomes, along with targeted support for those sectors that have been hardest hit by COVID-19, such as arts, entertainment and recreation. It is estimated that recovery in these sectors could take more than five years, so targeted support will be vital if the UK government is to deliver on the 2024 target. If the 2024 target cannot be reached (a real possibility given the pandemic), the UK government should find alternatives to help put more money into the pockets of low-paid workers. The report also recommends that the reinstatement of gender pay gap reporting and implementation of ethnic minority pay gap reporting should be undertaken as a matter of urgency.
With respect to health at work, the report recommends that the UK government make more resources available to employers to fulfil their duty of care towards their employees’ mental and physical health at work. Employers are recommended to carry out internal evaluations of the impacts of remote and flexible working during the pandemic and to build the findings into their future plans. These evaluations should include consideration of how key job quality issues, such as social support and cohesion, agency and purpose, and physical and mental health, should be supported by the employer when staff are working remotely. Where homeworking is not feasible or desirable, the recommendation is to build good job design that enables greater flexibility, productivity and work-life balance for staff.
The full report is well worth a read, especially for those businesses that are looking for ways in which to turn the challenges that the pandemic has thrown their way into opportunities to improve their job design and thereby strengthen their business in the process.