Pure Exploitation: The Zero-Hour Contract Scandal

15:49Ciaran McCormick

The zero-hour contract scandal has surfaced in the UK in recent weeks. Many major employers have been caught out exploiting the bad state of the economy. They take advantage of vulnerable groups of workers such as the part-time and young in order to minimise labour costs and employ on their own brutal schedules. This is exploitative and is part of a trend. Big employers in untouchable mega-companies can dictate their own terms. Whilst employment regulations are reasonable in this country and certainly a better example than many other places in the world, there are certainly some gaps and loopholes that undermine the hard work of many in this country. I think that this is exploitative and is not justified by the interests of big business.


A zero-hour contract is basically where employees are required to be able to show up to work as and when required. It removes the certainty of set hours and means that workers cannot rely on a constant stream of income. Big players have been caught out with this recruitment trap, such as Sports Direct who employs 20,000 staff on zero-hour contracts. In some sectors, the practice is frighteningly widespread, such as hospitality, education and health. It is designed to ensure that workers are called in when needed to suit fluctuations in demand. However, this exploits the vulnerability of workers in these sectors. If you are employed at arm's reach, you cannot put much stake in a steady income and job prospects. I personally have experienced a month's work on a zero-hour contract in the hospitality sector. It involved being on call at all times, left little opportunity for planning anything else and often involved traipsing to work in the morning, sent away in the day and then returning in the evening, in effect four commutes. This gives me a snapshot of the zero-hour life. I have a lot of sympathy for those that have to endure such uncertainty and threadbare income on a regular, daily, lifelong basis. Imagine if you were told that you had to be available for work for eight hours, maybe at an unsociable time like the middle of the night. However, nobody called and those hours were wasted when you would rather be earning a wage or doing anything else.
 
The Office of National Statistics figures but I am certain that so many more than this suffer from zero-hour contracts

It has attracted such huge attention in the press and media. Indeed, those few groups left to safeguard the interests of employees are up in arms over the revelations. Trade unions such as Unite and the TUC have condemned it. Groups like Youth Fight for Jobs are planning demonstrations. In a twist of irony, a charity committed to improving the job prospects of those in difficulty because of alcohol and drug abuse, has been exposed in the scandal. Turning Point has sacked thousands of employees and issued zero-hour contracts to hundreds.


The anger over these contracts taps into the vulnerability of workers in today's economy. We know that jobs are less easy to find outside of sectors like technology and areas requiring niche skills. This means that the service economy has surplus labour to allow it to dictate terms to maximise profit without repercussion. Though we have a legally mandated minimum wage, there is no living wage to recognise the needs and social justice for workers. The government has tried to appeal to the business classes with a lot of hiring/firing rhetoric that threatens workers with instability. They have introduced exorbitant charges for employment tribunals that price people out of justice. Big companies have the resources and stature to hold weight over employee rights. Zero-hour contracts are causing such a fuss because they are operated by many companies that can afford to offer better alternatives. Corporate social responsibility needs to be integrated as part of human resources policy and not just as a marketing exercise. I would never want to experience a zero-hour contract job again and can hardly imagine the anguish of relying on one for an income. 

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