After a day stuffing the washing machine with dirty laundry, wheeling the toddler around the supermarket, running the gauntlet of the school run, stuffing tea down fussy eaters’ by disguising broccoli with tomato ketchup, pulling off a UN style deal to negotiate homework first, TV second and, then whittling down the expected number of stories from five to two before persuading them to shut their eyes before 8pm; I expect the furthest thing on many women’s minds is to then throw on their coats, grab their bags and get to work and all in the knowledge that they will earn less than men over the course of their careers and take the hit of a pay cut in exchange for some precious flexible working, yet this is what is happening. Night working is growing and yes you guessed it two-thirds of this growth is being fuelled by women.
The Trades Union Congress (TUC) brought out new findings to coincide with the clocks turning back, marking the beginning of British Winter time. The new analysis shows that the number of people who work night shifts increased by 275,000 (9%) between 2011 and 2016 to 3,135,000 and, if you consider that night-workers now account for one in eight employees you can see where working patterns are headed.
There is a clear gender split in the kind of jobs male and female night-workers do, say the TUC. 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 15% and 4% respectively over the past five years. Whilst of course there is a need for night working in medical and caring roles the impact this has on family life can’t be overlooked, together with mental wellbeing and health. For many women, the reality is that night shifts also offer them a chance to hand children over to their partner and therefore negate the steep costs of childcare.
The findings come on the back of further news from the TUC, using the Office for National Statistics’ 2015 Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings which claims that women earn less than men throughout their working lives and the gap is widest in their 50s when they earn £8,504 less per year than full-time men.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Women suffer a huge pay penalty over the course of their careers, which peaks in their 50s. At current rates of progress, it will take decades for women to achieve pay parity with men.
“Having children has starkly different effects on men’s and women’s pay, with women earning less after having kids and men earning more.
“Far more needs to be done to help mums get back into decent, well-paid jobs after they have kids – and to encourage dads to take on their share of caring responsibilities.”
So not only are women making up the graveyard shift but they are also missing out on pay, sometimes they are doing so voluntarily to negotiate flexible working. A Workingmums.co.uk poll in September found that 78% of women have taken a pay cut to get more flexibility in their jobs after having children. For many, the pay cut was a result of going part time.
Forty-six years ago, we had the Equal Pay Act but the reality is that women are still earning less than men, feel cornered into taking pay cuts to keep their jobs and manage their family commitments and are forced into taking shifts with unsociable hours to keep down the costs of childcare. We really haven’t come very far at all. So forgive the next woman who rolls her eyes at you, reaches for a sharp instrument or throws the nearest object of fury at you when you dare to say that she and her fellow working mums are ‘having it all’, because the reality is what they are having is deprived sleep, less pay and the constant burden of juggling just about everything.
By Annie Hayes, HR freelance writer and expert.
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