Zero Hours Contracts: Time to abolish the life of constant insecurity & fear

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Yesterday was one of the worst days of my life: my employer told me with no prior warning, and halfway through a shift, that my services were no longer required with immediate effect. This is the reality of living in the shadow of a zero hours contract, and having a constant sense of insecurity hanging over you like a ticking time bomb – today my fears materialised, and I’ve never felt more worthless.

The exact details I will spare you, but the company in question (who will not be named – despite my innate desire to name and shame) showed no regard whatsoever and acted as if I were an old toy that they no longer wanted and had tossed in the bin. They acted in such a manner that would make anyone question what kind of  society we live in if it allows such treatment to happen: but the fact is, such an occurrence is way too common and seemingly only getting worse.

One million British workers will soon be relying on zero-hours contracts for their main job under current trends, following another sharp rise in the use of the controversial employment terms – with the young proving the most vulnerable. – The Independent

The argument goes that zero-hours contracts are a good thing for both businesses and employee’s, that they offer flexibility. And they do have their benefits when used appropriately, for instance when work is seasonal or for students who need the flexibility to work around other responsibilities.

zero-hour-contracts-600x393But nearly one in six workers are now in insecure work according to research by Citizens Advice. Unions warn, and rightly so, that employers are forcing workers to accept zero hours contracts that guarantee no work and offer few employment rights – many feel they have no option to accept. Full employment contracts should be used when someone is working regular hours: the increase in zero hour contract numbers shows that this is not the case. They are quite clearly becoming more widely used to avoid employers’ responsibilities to employees.

The problem isn’t the contracts themselves, it’s how businesses use them. Flexibility is now a euphemism for exploitation of insecure workers. TUC research found that average weekly earnings for zero-hours workers were £188, compared with £479 for permanent employees.

“The so-called flexibility these contracts offer is far too one-sided. Staff without guaranteed pay have much less power to stand up for their rights and often feel afraid to turn down shifts in case they fall out of favour with their boss.” – Frances O’Grady (TUC general secretary)

What a way to live, not knowing if you’ll be able to make ends meet from week to week: in fact not knowing if you’ll have any work at all from week to week. Living in constant fear that your hours may be cut, or that you may not be offered hours whatsoever. The anxiety of that hanging over your head at all times. Nobody should have to live in such a precarious state in one of the richest nations on the planet.

Zero hours contracts might be useful cost cutting exercises for businesses, but are they productive apart from thus? Eight in 10 people in work said a steady job with regular pay increased productivity and 86% said it increased their loyalty.

I now face a race against time to try find alternative employment – or face being evicted and not being able to feed myself. I ask myself, how is it ethical or humane for an employer to be able to leave their staff, which they are meant to have a duty of care towards, in such a position?

Businesses have proved that they cannot be trusted not to exploit their workforces if given the opportunity, so like a naughty child who was given a chance to behave but has now been put on reins, we must regulate so they do not have the opportunity to do so: and as there seems to be no alternative that would not leave such loopholes open, zero hours contracts must be outlawed.

The real problem with inequality is not that somebody else has a Porsche and you don’t, it’s that it undermines your bargaining power. If the greater share of profits goes to capital than to labour, wages are depressed and employers enriched, then jobs become more precious as it becomes impossible to amass a buffer of savings. The employer can make more and more unreasonable demands – and this has been quite a long curve – Zoe Williams for The Guardian

The reality is that business use zero hours contracts inappropriately and will continue to do so, as they know workers have less rights under such an arrangement and can easily be dismissed if they stand up for themselves. This leaves employee’s open to poor working conditions and even bullying or emotional blackmail – this is becoming a worrying trend, as the barbarism of cases such as Sports Direct have proved.

I believed Ed Miliband was right when he called for zero hours contracts to be outlawed, and now I have experienced such exploitation first hand my feelings on the matter are even stronger – for the sake of our nation and its workers, it’s time we took the issue more seriously, it’s time they were thrown on the scrap-heap.