The Thurrock Heckler on Zero Hours Contracts

I found an excellent post on the insecurity, poverty and fear generated by zero hours contracts over at the blog The Thurrock Heckler. It begins

According to the Office for National Statistics, the number of workers on zero hours contracts doubled during the last year to 200,000. A zero hours contract is a way that legally allows employers to take on staff without any guarantee of actual work or income. In 2005, there were 55,000 workers on zero hours contracts. This rose to 110,000 between April and June last year. That nearly doubled to 200,000 between October and December last year. As it is now April and the trend appears to be going upwards, it would be a reasonably safe bet to assume that there are way more than 200,000 on these contracts. Over a quarter of major employers in Britain now use zero hours contracts. We need to do a bit of digging around to see how many small to medium companies also use these contracts as the figure of 200,000 seems very much on the low side to us.

This is all part of the ‘flexible’ labour force that is heralded as keeping unemployment numbers lower than they would be in the depths of an economic crisis. Supporters of zero hours contracts claim they allow employers greater flexibility in planning their workflow as they can use and discard staff as demand rises and falls. Sure it’s great for employers but it’s utter crap for workers who have no choice but to accept a zero hours contract or have no work at all.

I’ve friends, who were placed on zero hours contracts, and all of this is true. The article does not mention the problems they had with their local jobcentre. They tried claiming benefits for the period they were not working. The DWP demands that you provide a payslip indicating that that week you were not paid. At the time, however, they were working for the Post Office, who only gave you a payslip for the days you worked. My friend was thus placed in the position where he was unable to claim unemployment benefit, because of the payroll system used by the Post Office. I’m sure he wasn’t the only person in this position, or that it was confined to the Royal Mail.

Zero Hours Contracts are a nasty way of providing employers with a cheap labour force, in which those on the contracts are trapped going from one day to another. It’s the return of casual labour of a type that the Labour party made illegal earlier in the century for dockworkers. Now it’s come back, and is being used in wider industry. I’ve also no doubt that the Heckler is right when he says that if Labour comes to power, they will be under increasing pressure to maintain or expand Zero Hours Contracts in order to increase competitiveness.

The articles at It needs to be read.

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