Call for blanket ban on unpaid shift work

By Stuart Stone contact

- Last updated on GMT

Ban on exploitation: trade union Unite reveals the number of complaints about unpaid shift work has increased
Ban on exploitation: trade union Unite reveals the number of complaints about unpaid shift work has increased
MPs and lawyers have called for a wholesale ban on unpaid shift work after trade union Unite announced a sixfold increase in complaints over unpaid shifts over the past three years.

On 16 March, a private members' bill – presented by the Scottish National Party MP for Glasgow South, Stewart McDonald, on 19 July 2017 – which seeks to make unpaid trial shifts illegal, will get its second reading.

McDonald told the BBC that current legislation banning excessively long trial shifts is not working.

He said: "People are being asked to try out for jobs that don't exist.

"Companies are just trying to cover staff absences in other parts of the business.

"This is about ending that exploitation and empowering applicants, and making sure there is dignity throughout the process."

The Federation of Small Businesses has said that while unpaid shifts are a key part of the recruitment process, they shouldn’t be an exploitative practice – something that Unite says happens too often.

Colin Borland from the Federation of Small Businesses said: "Small businesses can sometimes be reticent about hiring or even looking to expand headcount when the work is there because they are worried about making the wrong decision.

"The more that we can do to make sure they hire the right people, the better. You just have to be very careful that it doesn't cross into what's exploitative."

Speaking to the BBC, employment solicitor Lois Madden said: "There is nothing grey about this.

“It's illegal to ask someone to come in, to give up their time, to provide services, to provide revenue, and not pay them at least the minimum wage, or the national living wage if they are over 25."

'Welcome' action

UK Hospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls commented: “Business should not expect people to work without being paid.

"Any venue that requires potential staff members to effectively 'audition' for a job by doing a shift without pay is depriving somebody of the money that they are entitled to. We have certainly not seen any evidence of this occurring within the UKHospitality membership, but action to ensure it does not occur is welcome.

“This practice is distinct from Government-backed return-to-work schemes or work experience, which offers an opportunity for young people to gain knowledge, practical experience of the workplace and hopefully the beginnings of a successful career. New legislation needs to safeguard the practice of work experience while tackling those employers who routinely offer unpaid shift trials.”

Brigid Simmonds, Chief Executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, commented: “I have met with Stewart McDonald MP who is sponsoring a Private Members Bill to stop practices which see people employed for long periods with no pay and no paid position available afterwards.

"Such practices are indefensible, but any additional legislation would need to be flexible and allow for genuine short-trial periods, akin to an interview. There are examples where a company is looking to see if a new team member will fit with those already in place or have the practical skills for certain positions.”

'Unintended negative consequences' 

Mike Shipley, analytics and insight solutions director at provider of labour, payroll, inventory and purchasing systems Fourth commented: “Unpaid trial shifts are common in the hospitality industry, but they can pave the way for unintended negative consequences, such as non-compliance with the National Living Wage legislation, if companies do not have the necessary systems and practices in place.

“Due to the way in which the legislation is written, it’s highly possible that workers who are earning just above the minimum wage will have their trial shifts included in the total hours worked for a pay reference period, meaning they are paid lower than the national living wage and thus breaking the law. This problem is exacerbated by workers who only stay for a short period. To counteract this, operators needs to use smart software solutions that allow flexibility to account for trial shifts and ensure accurate and completely up to date records are kept.”

Related topics: Legislation

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