Zero Hours Hell and today’s Private Members’ Bill

This Private Members’ Bill gets its second reading in the House of Commons *today* – Friday 21st November (probably about 1pm)… Have you asked your MP to make sure s/he is there yet? There is still time to do it here! You can also join us in putting pressure on MPs by tweeting on #ZeroHoursContracts, copy in @ucuanti_cas and you can also find your MP on Twitter here.

This isn’t a “perfect” Bill (it doesn’t abolish them or anything) but it would be a significant step if it got through. It is arguably the first serious attempt at a definition of a Zero Hours Contract. Even if it does not get through (sadly I’m guessing it’s unlikely but *hope*) calling attention to it helps keep the injustice that comes part and parcel with this exploitative form of employment in public view. It helps underline the point that we think it is unacceptable to continue routinely exploiting workers.

Let’s not forget being on a zero hours contract increasingly makes it difficult or impossible to *get* a rental contract, let alone be sure of making the rent each month.

Let’s not forget that zero hours contracts quite literally mean you are guaranteed ZERO HOURS of work. Let’s not forget that research (and common sense) links the increase in zero hours contracts and the growing problem of under-employment which has been on the rise for at least the past 6 years.

Let’s not forget that research also shows that people on zero hours contracts “receive lower gross-weekly pay (an average of £236 per week) than those who are not (an average of £482 per week) and workplaces that utilise zero-hours contracts have a higher proportion of staff on low pay (between the National Minimum Wage (NMW) of £6.19 per hour and £7.50 per hour) than those who do not” [Resolution Foundation, 2013].

Let’s not ignore that all zero hours workers necessarily receive rights and treatment many people take for granted at work, like proper holiday and sick pay – I didn’t, and these people don’t.

Let’s not pretend that zero hours workers appear in small numbers when the ONS estimate went from 200, 000 in 2012 to a revision of at least 1.4 million in April of this year which may well still be an underestimate because there is a lot of confusion among workers as to whether they are even on a zero hours contract, whether that’s in the public or private sector. UCU research shows that 46% of universities and 60% of colleges use zero hours contracts to deliver teaching – and we know that many institutions are under-reporting.  At least 307, 000 care workers in England alone are on zero hours and this has been linked to difficulties in maintaining quality of provision (how can people provide that quality when under pressure and treated unfairly?!). Zero hours in the retail sector is rife; well-known offenders like Sports Direct consign 80% of their workers to them.

Let’s not forget that zero hours contracts can significantly disrupt people’s lives and even prevent you from claiming benefits you need when your hours fluctuate wildly. Let’s also not forget that in May, the minister for employment Esther McVey started talking about JobCentre staff ‘mandating’ unemployed people to accept zero hours contracts or face benefit sanctions.

Let’s not pretend that the idea of “flexibility” so often put about by those who support zero hour contracts tends to favour anyone other than the employer. If you’re treated well on a zero hours contract that really is luck and fortune, it is not by contractual design. Many zero hours workers have reported that turning down work (supposed flexibility) can mean you’re offered less work in future because you’re not being “flexible” (aka flexploited) enough. Let’s not forget that zero hours contracts can make it utterly impossible to plan ahead effectively, which impacts on the lives of individuals and the people who love them.

Let’s not just shrug our shoulders and pretend it’s “just one of those things” that the lives of so many are blighted by this form of casualisation.

Let’s fight back.

It is possible to win

Please email and tweet your MP if you haven’t done so already, and please join the conversation!

Vicky Blake, ACC Chair