From the TUC

#DecentJobsWeek: Zero-hours shop workers need some Christmas cheer too

16 Dec 2014, by in Labour market

Decent Jobs WeekWith Christmas bargains on offer and the January sales around the corner, this is the busiest time of the year on the high street. It’s also the time when those working in shops are under enormous pressure to keep the shelves stacked and to share the Christmas cheer.

But how often do we spare a thought to the people who help us buy our food and get our last-minute presents for family and friends? Do we ever think about whether the workers who are assisting us are able to work enough hours and earn enough money to have a good Christmas themselves?

In recent months media exposés have highlighted the exploitation of zero-hours contract workers in the retail sector. Too often retail workers face working conditions better suited to the Victorian era than 21st century Britain.   

They often have no idea how many hours they will work or how much pay they will take home each week. New statistics from the TUC reveal that on average zero-hours contract workers earn nearly £300 less each week than permanent employees, while one in three zero-hours contract workers report having no regular amount to take home.  

Such income insecurity makes it impossible to budget or cover household bills. One retail worker told us: “I have difficulty paying monthly bills – rent, tv, mobile phone contracts, etc – due my to my hours not being guaranteed.”

Recent research done by the TUC also revealed that the use of zero-hours contracts is not an isolated issue on the high street. The increasing use of short-hours contracts is also a problem facing many retail workers, with some being contracted to work, for example, eight or fewer hours a week. According to official statistics, 28 per cent of retail assistants and cashiers normally expect to work 15 hours or less each week. 

While short-hours contracts may suit the needs of some, many short-hours workers want to work more and would like longer guaranteed working hours. 

A retail worker told us: “I am on a short-hours contract, which means I work 16 hours per week. I am able to do overtime, where a few extra hours are available each week. But because there are so many employees on short-hour contracts … getting overtime is like first come first serve basis. It is normally available on a Monday, I start working the week on a Wednesday, and by that time there is hardly anything available. I found another part-time job, again which is a zero-hours contract, and it is with much anxiety I wait for my next weeks’ hours, not sure how much I will get.”

Throughout Decent Jobs Week the TUC is running street stalls in shopping centres across England and Wales drawing attention to the fact that, in the run up to Christmas, millions of working people are trapped in low-paid, highly insecure jobs, where mistreatment is the norm and where there is limited prospect of escape. 

The TUC believes that endemic poor treatment at work should not be tolerated. We are calling on employers to work with unions to improve working practices on the high street and beyond, and campaigning for the government and politicians of all persuasions to introduce policies to encourage the creation of decent jobs, on decent hours and pay.

One Response to #DecentJobsWeek: Zero-hours shop workers need some Christmas cheer too

  1. Saving Our Safety Net Fact of the Week: cruelty to people who are weak and poor is the most important fact of all | ToUChstone blog
    Dec 19th 2014, 9:25 am

    […] They’re doing their best, just like the millions of workers coping with falling real incomes, zero hours contract workers with no regular amount to take home and people in precarious work facing worsening pay and […]