Zero Hours Contracts


This week on Facebook: At one of my monthly pie and a pint meetings with a friend (who is also ex-colleague), experiences in our own families had made us both aware of the difficulty in finding some form of permanent or at least longer term re-employment. This led to the subject of zero hour contracts and my subsequent research into them. For a couple of retired ex-civil servants who remembered the post WWII boom in full employment, the realities confronting those seeking employment in today’s commercial climate were brought home (quite literally) to both of us. 

The nub of modern employment problem seems to be in a political wish to statistically present high levels of employment in the economy and at the same time financially support the indigence of an ever increasing population from an ever decreasing fiscal revenue. Certainly zero hour contracts are advantageous to some workers and to all employers who use them where the State (theoretically) subsidises low wages. Politically they are used to disguise the true figures of UK unemployment and present obstacles to welfare benefits for those workers on a zero hours contract who wish to claim them.

The rationale behind zero hours contracts may be understandable but their application is questionable. My research brought me to the disparity between those seeking employment who are penalised by zero hour contracts and those already in receipt of  State sinecures that are further enhanced by tax breaks.

The House Lords is one example where there is a de-facto zero hours contract arrangement. There is no requirement for members attend the Lords or to vote on any issue before the House, they do however get certain tax free allowances and subsidies should they attend. Two national newspapers ran articles with the headline, ’No-vote peers’ rack up £360k in House of Lords fees and expenses and Peer claims £300 a day in expenses to walk 200 yards to work at House of Lords. Yet another indication of austerity measures that are being selectively applied.

While politicians tritely tell us that we are all in this together, it is clear that we are not, never have been and are never likely to be. I am reminded of the parable of the workers in the vineyard and the 1351 Statute of Labourers Act, or in more recent history, the call on and contract system that led to the great dock strike of 1889. 

Working men curse the king and all his parliament… that makes such laws to keep the labourer down. [William Langland’s, Piers Ploughman c. 1365]

 

Dockers ‘On Call’ — click image


Monday 1/5/2017 Q&A: What are zero-hours contracts? Zero-hours contracts, or casual contracts, allow employers to hire staff with no guarantee of work. They mean employees work only when they are needed by employers, often at short notice. Their pay depends on how many hours they work. Sick pay is often not included, although holiday pay should be, in line with working time regulations.

Tuesday 2/5/2017 Citizens Advice warns on zero hours contracts (2013): Zero-hours contracts can also mean fluctuating incomes that cause havoc with people’s benefit claims, denying them much-needed income when the hours dry up.  Universal Credit will make an important difference to help stabilise the income of people in this sort of precarious work.

Wednesday 3/5/2017  5 Reasons Why Zero-Hour Contracts Are the Future of Work: By the spring of this year (2014), there were around 1.4 million zero-hours contracts in the UK, meaning that over 10 percent of Britain’s working population is on one. In sectors such as tourism, catering and food, around 50 percent of employees have one, with other big users being retail and the care industry.

Thursday 4/5/2017  Zero Hour Contracts series from ‘The Week’: Zero-hours contracts have become a hugely controversial issue. Companies and business leaders argue they allow workers and firms necessary flexibility, while workers say they face short-notice changes to working hours and cannot make financial plans.

Friday 5/5/2017 Zero-hours contracts are actively fuelling the biggest problem in the British economy: Unemployment dropped to a new post-crisis low of 4.7%, while employment ticked higher once again. But behind the headlines, the story is very different. 4.7% unemployment in an economy like the UK’s would be considered by many economists to be pretty close to full employment — the point at which everyone who wants a job has a job.


Give and take? Unravelling the true nature of zero-hours contracts (pdf)Zero-hours contracts are something of an enigma: there is no legal definition for them and even common-usage has not clarified precisely what they are. What is not in question, however, is the strength of feeling expressed about the way zero-hours contracts are used and the part they play in the economy and society more widely.

Zero-hours contracts: myth and reality (pdf): In light of today’s globally competitive economy and complex and age-diverse workforce, flexibility has become increasingly important to our organisations. Employers need to be able to respond to the demands of customers and service users outside the traditional 9am–5pm Monday to Friday working week.

Ending the abuse of zero-hours contracts (pdf): The TUC believes that there is a serious problem of growing casual work in the UK. Whilst a typical employment still represents a minority of employment, there is increasing concern that the UK labour market is moving towards lower paid, less secure and more exploitative forms of employment, at a time when job opportunities are scarce and many households are struggling with an unprecedented fall in living standards.

Zero Hours Contract — House of Commons Library (pdf): This note discusses zero-hours contracts: a type of contract used by employers whereby workers have no guaranteed hours and agree to be potentially available for work. They are used increasingly by companies seeking labour flexibility and by workers seeking flexibility around their other commitments.

 

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