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TUC: 2 in 5 low-paid mums & dads penalised by bad bosses

Asking for family-friendly working patterns leads to them getting fewer hours, worse shifts and in some cases losing their jobs, low-paid mums and dads report

Half (47%) of low-paid young mums and dads are struggling to manage work and childcare, a new TUC report revealed recently (Friday).

More than two in five (42%) said they felt penalised at work when they asked for flexibility – telling the TUC they are subsequently given fewer hours, worse shifts or even losing their job.

The study of more than 1,000 low-paid mums and dads is part of the TUC’s new campaign for better jobs for mums and dads. A survey and focus groups with low-paid parents found that today’s irregular hours are to blame for low-paid parents finding it harder to manage work and childcare.

And many feel at the mercy of indifferent employers who can change their working hours on a whim. One in four (26%) parents told the TUC they had their shifts changed at short notice, and one in five (19%) had been given their rota less than a week in advance, making planning childcare very difficult.

In addition, more than half (58%) of mums and dads working in low-paid sectors like retail, hospitality and social care said that they didn’t know what rights at work they were entitled to. Nearly two in three (63%) weren’t aware of their right to unpaid parental leave.

As a result half (49%) weren’t using one or more of their legal rights to time off. That meant they ended up taking sick leave or holiday to cover childcare – nearly one in three (29%) had resorted to taking annual leave to cover their child being sick in the last year – and some were even prevented from leaving to look after their children in an emergency.

These working parents felt that language about “flexible working” and “work-life balance” didn’t apply to workers like them.

The TUC is calling for all workers – including mums and dads – to have the right to be notified of their shifts one month in advance. That will mean working parents can plan childcare commitments and do their jobs.

And the TUC is campaigning for all working parents – including zero-hours contracts workers, agency workers and those in casual work – to have the same parents’ rights, from day one in their jobs. Currently these rights are only available to workers with “employee” status – meaning 1.5 million workers won’t have access to these rights if they become parents.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

“Too many workplaces expect mums and dads to forget all about their kids as soon as they walk through the door. But it’s a nightmare to plan childcare when your boss changes your shifts at the drop of a hat, and you never work the same weekly hours twice.

“Many parents fear losing shifts, taking unpaid leave or being viewed badly at work if they need time off to look after their kids. And it is shocking that some mums and dads are being stopped from taking their children to hospital when they are sick.

“All workers should be given notice of their shifts at least one month in advance.  Everyone at work should get the same parents’ rights from day one – and everyone should be given written information about these rights.

“My advice to working dads and mums is this: join a union today. Your union will make sure you get your legal rights to time off to look after your kids.”

Case studies:

To speak to a case study of a young, low-paid parent struggling to manage work and childcare please contact the TUC press office on 020 7467 1248. Written case studies are also available:

Becky Thompson is a 29-year-old mum of three from Bracknell. Her girls are 10, 4 and 9 months, and she works 25 hours a week for a large retailer and is a rep for the shopworkers’ union USDAW. Becky told the TUC it can be really hard to balance work and childcare. She said: “If the kids are sick I try to go to work but I can’t always. Recently my daughter was very ill on a Saturday night with a high temperature and we had to take her to our local A&E. The doctors confirmed that she had tonsillitis and ear infections in both ears. So I had to miss work on the Sunday, which happened to be Father’s Day. When I went back in on the Monday my manager said that she thought I was lying and I had just wanted to have Father’s Day off. So I had to take in a letter from the doctors to prove I was telling the truth. I feel like I get pinpointed for not being able to do any overtime or weekends. So people say “well Becky never works weekends”. There are comments and it can be quite bitchy. But I can’t work weekends – my eldest and middle daughter are at school so weekends are our only family time.”

Michael Barker is a 26 year old man living in Leicestershire. He’s married with two kids aged 20 months and 9 months, and he is a member of the GMB union. Michael is the sole earner in the family, as his wife is disabled and uses a wheelchair. He is part of a non-emergency ambulance crew, mainly transporting patients between hospitals. He is employed by a private contractor and his managers put him under pressure to work longer hours, and tell him to stay on, often with very little notice. Michael says: “I find it tough to balance things. I’m proud of being a father and want to set a good example for my kids. But there are days when I get up, get dressed, play with them for five minutes, and when I get home, they’re already in bed. It should be better than that. And if a manager dumps extra hours on you, sometimes you don’t know when you’ll make it home.” Michael says: “My daughter was four weeks old when she got bronchitis. She spent two weeks in hospital. It was a scary time. I called my line manager and the control room, and they told me to come into work the next day, and that I could visit my daughter after work. Her condition got worse, so they agreed to give me the time off, but only if I took it out of my paid holiday. When your kid’s in hospital, you don’t really have a choice. I just want to be able to provide for my family, and be there to take care of them. I work hard, but I don’t just want to work to survive – I want to see some benefits for my family too.”

Kirsty Arthur is a 27-year-old mum of two from Cornwall. Her boys are 2 years old and 5 months old and she works part-time in retail. Kirsty is an USDAW rep and is currently on maternity leave. She told the TUC: “When my son was ill I would take time off work but if you have an absence percentage higher than 3% then you have to go through a disciplinary process. I was only working 4 shifts a week so if I missed a few shifts to look after my son then that really pushed my percentage up. So every time I came back I had to go through that process which was a bit demoralising. And the more times I had to go through that disciplinary process, then the more upset the bosses got with me. I know my legal rights about time off to look after my children, but that’s because I’m a union rep. It makes me sad that other colleagues don’t know their rights and don’t fight for them. They’re not very easy rights to use. Managers are supposed to be impartial but it’s just down to one person’s opinion and if they don’t like you they can just say no.”

Further statistics:

Workplace culture

  • Half of young parents (51%) working in low-paid jobs like retail, social care and childcare have a boss who’s never spoken to them about their workplace policies to time off to look after their kids.
  • Gender stereotypes are still rife. Dads in our survey said they felt uncomfortable revealing the pressures on them as parents to their bosses, and half (48%) felt stigmatised at work because of needing flexibility to help manage their childcare.
  • And attitudes of some employers to flexible working also don’t help. More than two in five (42%) young parents said they felt penalised at work when they asked for flexibility – telling the TUC they are subsequently given fewer hours, worse shifts or even losing their job.


The TUC has made 17 recommendations for government following this extensive research, including:

  1. Rights for all: All working parents – including zero-hours contracts workers, agency workers and those in casual work – should have access to the same rights, from day one in their jobs. This includes all family friendly rights, which are often only available to “employees”. 
  2. Notice of working hours: All workers should be given notice of their shifts at least one month in advance.
  3. Information about rights: All workers should receive information about their workplace rights, including the rights which will help them manage their childcare needs. 
  4. ‘Childcare leave’: Unpaid parental leave should be renamed ‘childcare leave’ and be paid at least at the rate of the relevant minimum wage rate. The government should introduce 5 days’ paid childcare leave a year.
  5. Time off for dependents: This should be paid at least at the rate of the relevant minimum wage rate. And there should be 5 days’ paid leave to look after dependents a year.

Notes to Editors:

  • The report is available at: www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/Betterjobsformumsanddads.pdf
  • The TUC commissioned Britain Thinks to speak with and survey young working parents to find out: the real experiences of younger working parents in balancing their working time with their childcare responsibilities; the level of awareness, use and response to rights designed specifically to help working parents balance their responsibilities; and the effectiveness of these rights and where they could be improved. Our research involved a diary tracking task, focus groups and then a large scale survey. Initially we spoke with 56 young parents and heard directly about their experiences. All young parents we spoke to: had at least one child aged between 1 and 16 years old, were aged between 20 and 35, had household earnings of less than £28,000, and none found it easy or very easy to organise childcare with their working hours. We then designed a survey, which was shaped by the feedback from the 56 parents, to explore these issues across a broader range of young parents.  We surveyed 1,050 young parents to find out more about their experiences. For more information about Britain Thinks please visit www.britainthinks.com
  • Young people are over represented in sectors such as retail, hospitality and private sector health and social care work.  A TUC survey of insecure workers revealed that flexible working practices, such as short notice of shifts and variable working hours, are prevalent in these sectors.  In the hospitality and health and social care sectors there has been a significant rise in insecure work leading to increased job and income insecurity. Reference: www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/living%20for%20the%20weekend%20long%20report%20whole%20thing.pdf, page 13/14


  • Congress 2017 will be held in the Brighton Centre from Sunday 10 September to Wednesday 13 September. The deadline for free media credentials has now passed. Applications will be processed in Brighton and will cost £75.


Press Office  T: 020 7467 1248  E: media@tuc.org.uk
Elly Gibson  T: 020 7467 1337  M: 07900 910624  E: egibson@tuc.org.uk
Alex Rossiter  T: 020 7467 1285  M: 07887 572130  E: arossiter@tuc.org.uk
Tim Nichols  T: 020 7467 1388  M: 07808 761844  E: tnichols@tuc.org.uk
Michael Pidgeon  T: 020 7467 1372  M: 07717 531150  E: mpidgeon@tuc.org.uk


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