Understanding employer delivery of good work in the UK

Lead Research Organisation: University of Warwick
Department Name: Institute for Employment Research


This research seeks to better understand good work in low wage industries, aligning the doctoral thesis with the policy work of the UK Living Wage Foundation. The doctorate is being conducted under an ESRC Collaborative Doctoral Studentship at the Warwick Institute for Employment Research, the University of Warwick, as part of the Midlands Graduate School, in collaboration with the Living Wage Foundation.

The Industrial Strategy (HM Government, 2017) commits the UK Government to creating more good work as a national socio-economic imperative, including to raise the UK's poor levels of productivity. Currently 5.5 million UK workers are paid less than the real living wage. There is also increasing concern about the impact of rising precarious work on in-work poverty. There are 1.8 million zero-hours contracts in the economy (ONS, 2018a) and 3.4 million people under-employed (working fewer hours than they would like) (ONS, 2018b). An estimated 3.2 million people have working-hours insecurity.

These problems are concentrated in three industries - wholesale and retail; accommodation and food services; and health and social work. These industries comprise a third of all jobs but over half of all workers paid less than the real Living Wage (D'Arcy, 2018). They are also associated with insecurity and underemployment. Almost a quarter of accommodation and food services employees are on zero-hours contracts, with high levels of precarious work also found in health and social care, and retail. These industries account for a significant proportion of the UK's productivity gap with key competitor countries (CBI 2014), suggesting that this situation is bad for the economy, as well as individual workers and their families. Generating good work in these industries could therefore address UK productivity performance problems (Forth and Aznar 2018). Ultimately, it is employers who provide jobs, whether good or bad (Findlay et al. 2017). As Warhurst and Luchinskaya (2018) argue, it is the choices of employers (or managers as employers in loco) that therefore matter, and better understanding of the factors that underpin choices to offer good work, rather than poor work, is required.
The thesis has four main research questions, as follows:
1. What factors influence the provision of good work by firms in industries that typically offer low wages and high insecurity?
2. What relationship exists between this good work and firm performance?
3. What business lessons do these firms offer to other firms in these industries?
4. What policy pointers do these firms offer for government policy on productivity and good work?
A mixed method research design will generate new empirical quantitative and qualitative data.

There are three stages to the study. The first stage will involve conducting reviews of the three industries signalled above based on academic and grey literatures, official statistical data and data from key actor interviews. The aim will be to understand key trends and developments in job quality.
The second stage will involve a A deep dive into these industries with a purposive sample of employers who are Living Wage Accredited and therefore providing good work. With Living Wage Foundation access support, two case studies in each industry will be undertaken.
The third stage involves a comparative analysis across the industries and case studies to identify common drivers, enablers and deliverers of selected good work measures.
The above academic research will align with the work of the Living Wage Foundation, where findings will be converted into user-friendly reports and briefing papers on specific low pay industries and international debates around the promotion of good work.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000711/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
2272830 Studentship ES/P000711/1 01/10/2019 03/01/2023 Jonathan Richard Winfield