Night working is a boom industry
Personally, I struggle with mornings. To me, the arrival of daylight savings time and an extra hour in bed is the highlight of autumn, a season that contains my birthday. As you look forward to longer in bed, spare a thought for millions across the country who work through the night. In the last five years nearly 275,000 more workers have begun to work nights, putting their health at risk, and their work life balance under pressure. Across the country this amounts to a 9% increase. In total 3,134,865 people, 11.8% or one in eight employees usually work nights.
Reviewing the latest data from the Labour Force Survey, we found that there have been dramatic increases in the number of women working nights. In fact, women accounted for more than 2/3 of the increase in night workers. In total, there are 274,580 more night workers in the 2016 than there were in 2011. This increase is made up of 189,243 more women and 85,338 more men. The two most common professions for female night-workers are care-working and nursing. The number of women doing night-shifts in these professions increased by 14.5% and 3.8% respectively over the past five years.
Male night workers are most likely to work in protective service occupations (military, security, policing) and road transport.
Night work has increased hugely in some regions – by 57.7% in Northern Ireland, and 30.3% in London. Over the same five year period it decreased by 5.9% in the East of England, and 12.7% in Scotland. Levels of night work are unevenly distributed throughout the country. Wales has the highest proportion of night workers in the UK with 14.5% of employees usually working nights, closely followed by the North East (despite the decline) 13.8% of employees usually work nights here. The East of England has the lowest areas of night work; only 9.4% of employees report usually working nights in this region
Why does any of this matter? Well, there is increasing evidence that night working can be highly detrimental to mental and physical health. These include: heightened risks of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and depression. But the risks are not limited to the individual worker. Family life can also be affected as night work takes its toll upon work life balance.
While we do not oppose night working per se, we are calling for measures to ensure it is fair:
- Employers and unions should ensure that night working is only introduced where necessary.
- Where night working is introduced into a workplace, no existing workers should be forced to work nights.
- Shift patterns should be negotiated between unions and employers.
- Workers should have some element of control over their rotas, so that they can ensure that the shifts they work are best suited to their individual circumstances.
- Workers should always have sufficient notice of their shift patterns so they can make arrangements well in advance. Changes at short notice should be avoided.
- The remuneration paid to those working nights should properly reflect the likely additional costs of childcare and inconvenience that night shifts can entail.