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More flexible hours should become part of new normal says report

HUGE changes to the working lives of millions of people as a result of the Covid-19 crisis show how a more innovative approach to work could benefit industry, according to a new report.

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) said the UK was nearing a “pivotal moment”, when new working practices could be adopted across the economy, amid pressure from employees for a new way of working.

Changes made during the pandemic offer a glimpse of how these could be achieved, including in sectors not traditionally seen as open to them, such as manufacturing, said the think tank.

Even before the virus struck, one in five manufacturing workers had some form of flexible arrangement, said the IPPR.

As many as two in five workers in manufacturing industries said they would rather work fewer hours, a survey of over 1,100 adults suggested.

Nearly one in three manufacturing workers said they would be willing to work fewer hours even if that meant less pay.

The report said much of the innovation in working practices made necessary by Covid-19 – including, in manufacturing, more flexible shifts at different times of day, or staff working longer but fewer shifts to spread work between them over different days – have been helpful to workers, while maintaining production.

The report made a number of recommendations, including a new bank holiday, in recognition of the contribution of key workers through the pandemic, as the first step in a longer-term plan to increase bank holiday and more flexible annual leave entitlements.

Rachel Statham, IPPR senior research fellow, said: “The way people work was already changing before Covid-19, but the past few months have shown how far and how fast innovation is possible – fewer hours, more flexible shifts, more flexibility all round.

“It’s not just people in professional and white-collar jobs working from home. Factories and engineering companies across the UK have also been operating differently, in ways that suit their workforce and have been designed with them.

“Even as we continue to support the economy to recover from the pandemic crisis, we need to capture those improvements and learn how to be more responsive to the changing needs of the UK’s workforce, including in manufacturing industries, for the long term.”

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