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Zero hours contracts are a weapon of workplace control

zero hours contractsI’m glad Labour is making some good noises about zero hour contracts. It’s even better that they’ve met the stupid and entirely predictable letter from Tory supporting business chums that, shock horror, support the Tories with a signed letter of their own featuring people on zero hour contracts. For all their money advantage, so far Labour’s campaign is proving much cannier and smarter than the blue party’s scaremongering. Though it would be quite helpful if Labour MPs, Labour-run councils, and the Labour Party apparatus itself didn’t use them.

Anyway, zero hour contracts: as people who’ve never had and never will have to live on them engage in debate on their suitability and flexibility, and opine over businesses ill-prepared to offer people guaranteed hours like, you know, how they did more than 10 years ago, there’s an anecdote I’d like to share.

There is a well-known local employer who will remain nameless, and owns a few enterprises dotted about the city. This individual has been an enthusiastic user of zero hour contracts since long before they were picked up by official politics. There was an occasion where two employees decided to swap shifts, as one woman had childcare issues. That’s pretty innocuous – such shift-swapping is common in workplaces up and down the country. Except this workplace.

The boss hit the roof when they found out. Being someone who you can only describe as jealously conscious of their wealth and position, and sensitive to the slightest challenge to it or any sign of employee autonomy, even something as banal as working each others’ shifts without the gaffer’s say so was to be stamped all over. And so this employer used the zero hour contracts the staff were on not to give them any hours again, effectively making them unemployed and leaving them without an income for several weeks before they got the hint.

Do zero hour contracts suit some people? Yes. But are they also used as a weapon of workplace control, causing people who can ill-afford it lost income and associated stress-related problems? Absolutely. A crack down on these hideous scams is overdue – but will only happen if Labour are elected into office.

This article first appeared at All that is Solid

Image credit: BBC


  1. Robert says:

    Now I’m totally mixed up which blue party, because labour is now seen as Blue Blue labour, so are they the ones who really pushed the zero hour contracts out, or are you talking Tories who also like the zero hour contracts.

    IN Wales they could have voted out the zero hour contract but made up an excuse they did not have the power to do so.

    It has sod all to do with the councils warning the Assembly not to ban zero hour contracts because it would mean the could not use them and would mean thousand being laid off.

    The most enthusiastic people in Wales on zero hour contract have been councils and some firms who have refused to pay the min wages.

    So would labour ban them when they get back in I doubt it they may bring in regulation s but I doubt they would stop it.

  2. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

    I enjoyed the article and particularly your keenly accurate description of, “someone who you can only describe as jealously conscious of their wealth and position, and sensitive to the slightest challenge to it or any sign of employee autonomy………” which is an attitude that is becoming rife, particularly among the SMEs.

    But think about it, what is the point, (or the economic justification for,) retaining someone on no pay, on the off chance that you might possibly have some need for them at some point in the future; or not ?

    Stupid, perverse, both?

    An employer can already get temps, (agency workers,) on an as needed basis for this kind of casual work; for as long or as short a period as they need them for so zero hour contacts really contribute nothing useful to either party anyway.

    Just how stupid and out of touch most of the debate actually is, (the article above being an exception,) is an indication of just how little real life experience of normal working Miliband and co really have.

    Zero hour contracts are barely even legal contracts in any normal or meaningful sense and should be stopped completely.

    So of course Milband instead puts forward a load of complete and utter crap about a full contract after 6 weeks, Blah, Blah, Blah………

    He hasn’t got a clue.

  3. David Pavett says:

    Labour opposition to ZHCs is welcome but I wonder how water-tight it is.

    Labour does not propose to abolish them but to ban their use for more than three months. Does this not make all sorts of work-arounds possible?

    Labour would allow them where they are allegedly favoured by the employee. Does this not fail to allow for employer pressure on otherwise unemployed workers to declare such a “preference”?

    It bothers me that Labour policy condemns “exploitative zero-hours contracts” thereby suggesting that there is a non-expoitative variety which would therefore be okay.

    Labour hasn’t moved, as far as I know, to stop the use of ZHCs by Labour MPs and Labour councils.

    P.S. I found the comment about people who have never debated ZHCs nevertheless discussing them and offering opinions on them a bit strange. Most people who organise politically to oppose poverty have never been poor. Most campaigners against illiteracy are literate. Many (most?) campaigners for better education are themselves well educated … and so on.

  4. Patrick says:

    Employers will give them say a 10 hour contract to get round any new regulations. Many shop workers are on low weekly hour contracts; I doubt Labour has any intention to ban these albeit they by definition will not generate sufficient income to survive on without WTC top ups. The elephant in the room is the urgent need to repeal anti TU laws from the 80s and 90s; exempt unions from civil liability and allow the closed shop and then let’s see the wage take of workers rise. Collective rights not individual rights need to be emphasised; if you don’t join the union you don’t get the job. This of course is pie in the sky today; we Marx and Dickens back to describe conditions of the working class; we need class politics and mass movements of working people back with a vengeance ( I use the word deliberately).

  5. John.P reid says:

    Already used in schools for teachers, by the police service for police staff,not just catering cleaning ,contractor jobs, the civil service…

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