Employment market bleak but flexibility key

Posted on 1 Jun 2009 by The Manufacturer

Thirty-five per cent of manufacturing workers – the highest in any sector across the UK – have had their pay cut since the recession began, according to a survey by the Keep Britain Working campaign.

In addition 33% have experienced a reduction in hours and 26% have lost benefits.

Overall, more than half of all UK workers (54%) have suffered one of these misfortunes, according to the survey. While 37% of UK workers have experienced just one, 12% have experienced two and 5% have experienced all three.

Keep Britain Working is an independent campaign begun earlier this year that is acting as a networking and reference point with the aim of protecting existing UK jobs and creating new ones. It has attracted praise from major UK politicians and union officials.

Figures released in mid-May by the Office for National Statistics showed unemployment at the end of March to be 2.22 million people – 7.1 per cent of the population deemed fit to work. This was up 244,000 from the three months to December 2008 and up 592,000 from a year earlier.

However, James Reed, founder of Keep Britain Working, applauded manufacturing workers’ flexibility in taking measures to avoid further unemployment. He pointed to the three per cent pay cut taken by Honda workers and the two per cent and six per cent of UK workers that have taken paid and unpaid sabbaticals respectively as evidence for this.

“The UK workforce has demonstrated unprecedented flexibility during this recession, allowing organisations to explore a whole range of cost-cutting responses other than relying solely on redundancies,” he said.

“British workers are increasingly pessimistic about job prospects in the immediate future, but – and in contrast to parts of Continental Europe – overall workers appear to be making common cause with their managers to help keep people working.”

Backing Reed’s case for the flexibility of UK workers, Keep Britain Working’s survey found two in five workers have been given extra responsibilities while one in five have had the nature of their role change, within the same organisation.