Three million Britons are working night shifts – and endangering their health

One in eight of the workforce is now employed while the rest of Britain sleeps

The number of people working regular night shifts has increased to more than three million since the recession, at a potential cost to their health and family life, new research has disclosed.

One in eight of the workforce is now employed while the rest of Britain sleeps, with a particularly steep rise in female staff on antisocial hours.

The TUC analysis follows studies suggesting a link between night-time working and increased likelihood of suffering such conditions as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, obesity and depression.

It called for late-night staff to be given extra rights to protect them from exploitation which could harm their mental and physical health.

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More men work night shifts but women are catching up fast (Getty)

The report was published ahead of a strike from this evening by London Underground workers in a row over moves to an all-night Tube service. The rail unions’ complaints include protests about the impact on the work/life balance of their members.

The TUC said the number working at night has risen from 2,961,000 in 2007 to 3,168,000 in 2014. The percentage working at night has gone up from 11.7 per cent to 12.3 per cent.

It predicted the proportion would continue rising because of moves to make NHS services available seven days a week, as well as a drive to increase the availability of late-night public transport, which could in turn encourage retailers to open all hours.

Last year 14.9 per cent of male staff worked the night shift, compared with 9.7 per cent of female employees, but the gap between the sexes is narrowing. Regular night working has increased by 12 per cent for women and by 4 per cent for men since 2007, and the two sectors with the highest percentage of night workers – care workers and nursing and midwifery – are female-dominated.

A higher proportion of people from black and ethnic minority backgrounds work at night compared with the overall workforce, and young workers are far more likely to be employed at night than older colleagues.

 

The TUC said night-time working was likely to affect employees’ social and family life, putting strain on relationships with partners and children. Arguing that the impact would be mitigated if employees had more control over their hours, the TUC said no existing staff should be forced to work at night and for shift patterns to be negotiated between unions and employers.

It also called for pay for night shifts to reflect the likely extra costs of childcare and inconvenience of working antisocial hours.

Frances O’Grady, the TUC’s general secretary, said: “We all value night workers, whether they are cleaning our office, caring for a sick relative or driving all night so there are fresh goods in our local shop.

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TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady (Getty)

“But night work is hard and it disrupts family life, so we must show our appreciation for the sacrifices night workers make by ensuring they have rights and protections.

“It is not right for employers to require night working without adequate consultation and negotiation. With night work increasing, employers must play fair and safe, or public safety will be put at risk and the families of night workers will suffer.”

She added: “We encourage the Government and employers to positively engage with trade unions on fair and sensible rights for night workers, so that we continue to enjoy the social benefits night workers give us without harm to them or the public.”

A spokeswoman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said: “The UK labour market allows people to get the type of work they want and businesses to structure their workforce in the way they need. Flexible working is a way of finding a balance that suits both employee and employer.”

Case study: 'I quite like night shifts'

Clare Lynch, 33, works in a Brighton call centre

I’ve been working night shifts for seven years now. Initially I started because I was a student and it fitted around my studies quite well. I work a shift pattern of two days on, three days off. Each shift starts at 7pm and finishes at 7am.

It’s not that bad working nights if you’re single, but if you’re in a relationship or have a family it can be really hard as you may only see them for a couple of hours some days.

I’ve never really gotten that badly sick. Stomach problems are quite common due to eating at strange hours.

I actually quite like working shifts. One of the benefits of working nights is that you have more freedom compared to a 9am–5pm job. You’re left to your own devices a lot.

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