Zero hours: Time to put a stop to this exploitation
Very few people in the UK today would not know about zero hours contracts. The Prime Minister himself said that he wouldn’t want to work on one. They have even been referred to in satirical TV and radio programmes.
Most regard them as a bad thing – exploitative and unwanted. Even those people who are happy working on them – typically self employed professionals and consultants – are usually opposed to the exploitative use of them for jobs that would, until recently, have been done by workers on regular contracts. They’re popping up everywhere now – in education, in social care, in construction and in transport.
People on zero hours contracts have precarious lifestyles because they cannot predict with any certainty now much money they will be earning from day to day. This makes it impossible to get access to mortgages, make pension arrangements, have access to paid maternity or paternity leave, make child care arrangements. If you get sick and cannot work, tough.
Being on a zero hours contract is not compatible with our social security system. How can you claim in-work benefits, which are based on low pay, if you cannot say what your income is every week? How can you make an appointment to see your GP? How can you look after your sick child or elderly relative without having to lose your income?
Use of zero hours work is now prevalent in the social care sector. This has an alarming impact on those being cared for, who will not know from day to day who their carer will be. The carers will not be able to develop a professional relationship with their clients and will be far less likely to pick up signs of deterioration in health. This puts unacceptable pressures on both the workers and those they are caring for.
It is particularly disgraceful that large businesses, who often pay their senior executives in terms of millions rather than thousands, use these shameful employment arrangements, often using the excuse of flexibility. You can, of course have genuine flexibility and give people contracted hours, using part time contracts, job sharing and other acceptable practices.
The TUC supports measures that will curb the exploitation of workers by regulating the use of zero hours contracts, so that everybody has a guarantee of a minimum amount of paid work every week.
In 1997 business groups swore that if there were to be a national minimum wage they would be forced out of business. That did not happen – indeed businesses flourished in the late 1990s and the early 2000s.
This time round, yet again, business organisations are saying that they cannot provide jobs unless they are allowed to exploit people shamelessly. This is as disingenuous now as it was then. The time has come to put a stop to this exploitation once and for all.