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Cambridge Public Policy SRI


New research on supermarket chains in the UK and the US shows that a range of flexible employment practices – extending far beyond just zero-hours contracts – cause widespread anxiety, stress and ‘depressed mental states’ in workers as a result of financial and social uncertainty, and can block worker access to education as well as much-needed additional income.

The findings are included in a report submitted to the government consultation on zero-hours contracts at the request of the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills.

“So-called ‘flexi-contracts’, whether that’s zero, eight or ten hours – none of which can provide a living – allow low-level management unaccountable power to dictate workers’ hours and consequent income to a damaging extent that is open to incompetency and abuse", according to Dr Brendan Burchell, Head of Department of Sociology at Cambridge, co-author of the report with PHD candidate Alex Wood who conducted the research which included interviews and shop-floor observation of supermarket workers.

The research has led the authors to call for the government to widen its review of damaging employment practices and include evidence in the debate around zero-hours contracts; for example, highlighting the negative impact of flexible contracts on low wage workers within the debate. Their research evidence suggests that there are additional costs to workers caused by unpredictability of scheduling such as planning childcare arrangements and access to training. They propose workers have statutory rights to work additional core hours and have a say in the scheduling of their hours.   

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