Shift Work Employment

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What is shift work?

Shift work is a pattern of work in which one employee replaces another on the same job within a 24-hour period. Shift workers normally work in crews, which are groups of workers who make up a separate shift team. In some shift systems, each crew will regularly change its hours of work and rotate morning, afternoon, and night shifts. Continuous shift systems provide cover for 24 hours, seven days a week. Non-continuous or discontinuous shift systems provide cover for less than the total hours available in a week – for example five 24 hour periods in seven days, or 12 hours out of 24.

Why is shift work on the increase?

Shift work is widespread throughout Europe. It is essential in some industries in which equipment, services or manufacturing processes must continue on a 24-hour cycle. Examples of this type of industry range from newspaper production and public utilities to hospital and emergency services. A development in more recent years has been the spread of shift working to industries such as telephone sales and banking. Other reasons for using shift work are:

  • Economic reasons – the pace of change has quickened and so has the rate at which plant and equipment become out of date: shift work enables employers to make maximum use of plant, which can reduce production costs and increase output.
  • Social reasons – changes in living and working patterns have created a demand for goods and services outside traditional working hours: for example, retail outlets are commonly open 7 days a week and in some cases for 24-hour periods.

What are the advantages and disadvantages?

Shift work can reduce unit costs because capital equipment is operated more intensively and cheaper off-peak electricity can be used. Rotas in some shift systems can enable a more flexible response to peaks and troughs of demand. Shift work can provide higher earnings for employees and allows them to use shops and social facilities at times when they are less crowded. On the debit side, shift working increases wage and labour costs and can disrupt employees’ social and domestic lives. It can also upset employees’ body rhythms and cause them to lose sleep. In addition, public transport facilities may not be available outside normal working hours.

What are the legal aspects of shift work?

The Working Time Regulations 1998 govern the hours people can work and prescribe special health provisions for night workers.

What are the health and safety implications of shift work?

There is no conclusive evidence about the effects of shift work on health, but disturbance of the body’s rhythms can lead to digestive problems and lack of sleep. Some of these problems can be reduced if applicants for shift work are medically examined before being appointed. In addition, shift workers should not work excessive overtime. They should also be provided with canteen facilities or hygienic surroundings in which to eat their food. There should be appropriate safety practices and access to medical facilities.

What payments are made for shift work?

There is a variety of ways of paying shift work premiums, but the following are the most common:

  • flat rate allowances per hour, shift or week, in addition to basic day rates;
  • fixed percentage additions to the day work rates;
  • differential basic rates of wages with shift workers getting a higher rate than day workers;
  • paying a standard annual amount to all employees working that particular shift;
  • extra allowances for hours worked outside the normal daily hours.

How can shift work be made successful?

  • Involve employees and their representatives as early as possible.
  • Consider carefully whether operating shift work is economic. The following factors favour the introduction of shift work: – low labour costs compared with capital costs – a high expected rate of depreciation of plant which will need replacing regularly – possibly because of rapid developments in technology – a projected reduction in production costs following the introduction of shift work.
  • Consider what type of shift system to adopt. This will depend on a number of factors including:
  1. the nature of the service or manufacturing process – for instance is 24-hour continuous working required?
  2. pressure to reduce hours of work
  3.  local tradition – certain shift systems may be more readily accepted because they are commonly used in a particular locality or industry.
  • Consider setting up a working party of management representatives and trade union or other employee representatives.
  • Negotiate with representatives of recognised trade unions to set shift premiums and other relevant terms and conditions of employment including health and safety and welfare provisions for shift workers.
  • Find out whether there are enough suitable volunteers for shift work from the existing workforce.
  • Find out whether suitable local employees will be available.
  • Arrange a thorough medical examination for applicants.
  • Plan a shift rota.
  • Involve shift workers fully in communication and consultation arrangements.
  • Make shift workers aware of grievance procedures and train shift managers and supervisors to handle grievances.
  • Arrange adequate supervision for shift workers ideally by a shift manager.