Part-Time Working On the Increase
Part-time workers are ‘in the news’ at the moment. Latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that record numbers of people are now working part-time.
However, unlike in the past, when shorter hours were often sought to fit family commitments, lifestyle choices, etc., more and more workers are now taking part-time contracts because they can’t find full-time jobs in the current economy.
The second news item is an article in People Management magazine which draws on a different statistic from the ONS, namely that apparently part-time workers are the happiest in the UK (if you work part-time or know or manage someone who does, you may like to take a moment to compare this claim with your own experience).
A survey of 80,000 adults ask them to rate their overall life satisfaction, how worthwhile their daily activity was, and how happy and anxious they had felt the day before. The average ratings for the ‘satisfied’, ‘worthwhile’ and ‘happy yesterday’ proved to be higher for people working part-time than those working full-time.
Make of this what you will, but the current increase in ‘happy workers’ (!) coincides with the CIPD updating its members’ FAQs on part-time working and it seems appropriate to summarise here a few of the issues that SMEs might find most relevant in the current economic climate:
1. Who is a ‘part-time worker’?
Anybody who is contracted to work less than what are commonly regarded as full-time hours. Such workers fall under the protection of the Part-time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2000.
2. How much service do part-time employees need to qualify for statutory rights?
Put simply, the same as full-time employees. So for example, protection from unfair dismissal comes after a year’s service (although this will increase to two years for all employees from 6 April 2012). This is regardless of the number of hours worked (in other words, if full-time is 37 hours a week, then a person on a 18.5-hour contract does not have to work double the service to get the same rights – it just doesn’t work like that).
3. Can you insist that part-time workers increase their hours or work full-time to meet the needs of the business?
No. If they have an employment contract for a specific number of hours then that contract can only be varied by agreement. Unilateral changes by the employer may constitute a breach of contract.
4. Can a part-time worker ever be safely selected for redundancy?
Yes, assuming the usual redundancy stages have been followed; including consideration of all workers in the pool for selection and following a fair process for selection and scoring all potential candidates against suitable objective criteria.
5. Are any future developments expected in the area of part-time workers?
No specific legislation dedicated to par-time workers is planned. However, given that the Part-time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations are only a dozen years old, there is still scope for further clarification via case law. Additionally, government proposals to extend the right to request flexible working to all employees (currently that right is only available to parents of children under 17) could result in a rise on part-time contracts.