Exclusive: Workers should have ‘right to disconnect’, say 61% of Brits in new poll

A majority of UK adults support a law protecting the right not to respond to communications outside of core business hours and to not be penalised for doing so, exclusive polling by Savanta ComRes for LabourList can reveal.

The new research found that 61% of the general public back the ‘right to disconnect’, showing that 34% “strongly support” and 27% “somewhat support” the proposal from workers and trade unions. Just 7% oppose the measure.

Trade union Prospect has urged ministers to include such a right in the government’s employment bill. Its proposals could ban bosses from “routinely emailing or calling” outside set working hours, and emails could be automatically deleted to deter off-duty staff from continually checking their inboxes.

Labour launched its “new deal for working people” campaign last week with party leader Keir Starmer and deputy Angela Rayner pledging to “fundamentally change our economy” and “make Britain the best place to work”.

The Labour leader wrote exclusively for LabourList to explain why the party has launched the campaign, which is based on five principles: “security at work”; “quality jobs”; “a fairer economy”; “opportunity for all”; and “work that pays”.

Labour has backed a “right to switch off and disconnect from work at home outside of working hours”, as well as “flexible working for all as a default from day one of employment and an accompanying duty on employers to accommodate this where there is no reason a job cannot be done flexible and remotely”.

Employees currently have the right to request flexible working after six months in a job, but firms are only obliged to handle the requests in a ‘reasonable’ manner and do not have to accept the request even if such an arrangement is possible.

The Savanta ComRes survey found that a majority of UK adults, 52%, back changing employment law so that flexible working is available automatically to someone from the first day of being in a job, compared to 29% who do not.

On Tuesday, Rayner called on government ministers to bring forward their promised employment bill to enshrine the right to work flexibly in law post-Covid, after Rishi Sunak endorsed people returning to the office as “really beneficial”.

Commenting after the Chancellor told LinkedIn News that “for young people in particular being able to physically be in an office is valuable”, Rayner said: “The British people want to be able to work flexibly after Covid.”

The Tories promised to bring forward an employment bill in 2019, and the Conservative general election manifesto pledged to “encourage flexible working and consult on making it the default unless employers have good reasons not to”.

The government’s flexible working taskforce urged permanent job flexibility for workers earlier this year, with co-chair Peter Cheese describing the pandemic as an “opportunity to shift ways of working, which have barely changed for generations”.

Downing Street confirmed in June that the government is considering introducing a right for employees to request home working specifically, and a spokesperson said a flexible working task force was examining how best to proceed.

But they stressed that there would be no legal right to work from home, reporting that the Prime Minister Boris Johnson still believes that there are benefits to working in the office, such as in-person collaboration with colleagues.

The exclusive LabourList polling also showed that 48% of people support a law that requiring public bodies to report on how much they are buying from British businesses, a policy Labour has proposed as part of its jobs plan.

Rachel Reeves declared that Labour will “make, sell and buy more in Britain” as she unveiled a plan last month to raise standards, award more public contracts to British businesses and create “jobs of the future” in the UK.

The Shadow Chancellor said that the party will “get our economy firing on all cylinders” and stressed that the government should be “rethinking how we support our businesses, strengthen our supply chains”.

According to the research today, most people in the UK feel that they have a good work-life balance, with most indicating their is “very good” (24%) or “quite good” (40%). 17% reported that theirs is “quite poor” while 5% opted for “very poor”.

Asked to what extent it should be the responsibility of government or employers to be able to improve people’s work-life balance, 34% of UK adults feel it is for the government while 23% place the responsibility on employers.

Below are the results of the polling by Savanta ComRes in full.

To what extent would you say you have a good or poor work-life balance?

Very good – 24%
Quite good – 40%
Quite poor – 17%
Very poor – 5%
Don’t know – 14%

To what extent do you think it should be the responsibility of government or employers to be able to improve people’s work-life balance?

It should be solely the government’s responsibility to help employers improve people’s work-life balance – 11%
It should be mostly the government’s responsibility to help employers improve people’s work-life balance, but employers should take some responsibility too – 23%
It should be equally the government and employer’s responsibility to improve people’s work-life balance – 32%
It should be mostly the employer’s responsibility to help improve people’s work-life balance, but government should take some responsibility too – 14%
It should be solely employer’s responsibility to help improve people’s work-life balance – 8%
Don’t know – 8%

The law at the moment says only people classified as ’employees’ have a right to request flexible working, and only if they have worked at their organisation for 26 weeks and they have not made any other flexible working request in the previous year. Which of the following statements is closest to your view?

The law should be changed so flexible working is available automatically from the first day of someone’s employment – 52%
The law should not be changed so flexible working is not available automatically from the first day of someone’s employment – 29%
Don’t know – 19%

To what extent do you support or oppose a law related to the ‘right to disconnect’, a law that would protect a worker’s right not to respond to communications from work outside the business’s core hours, and not to be penalised for this (for example, by being denied a promotion if you refuse to work weekends)?

Strongly support – 34%
Somewhat support – 27%
Neither support nor oppose – 23%
Somewhat oppose – 4%
Strongly oppose – 2%
Don’t know – 9%

To what extent do you support or oppose a law which required public bodies to report on how much they are buying from British businesses?

Strongly support – 20%
Somewhat support – 28%
Neither support nor oppose – 29%
Somewhat oppose – 7%
Strongly oppose – 3%
Don’t know – 11%

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