Sunday, August 11, 2013

The awful Zero Hours Contract

This eminent and good friend has often remarked that I have turned into a socialist (even a communist) in my old age. He claims my writing in this blog is veering constantly to the left. Other readers of my blog ,might wonder, if this is left leaning then what will the true loony left be called. But I know I am going to get a mouthful from him for this post, which is admittedly leftwards tilting.

On matters relating to labour and worker law, I have often argued that countries have brought excessive legislation defending the existing worker and making it expensive to employ any more.Who in his right mind will employ a worker in France, for example. All this misguided legislation only keeps out a large portion of the young out of the workforce. Companies need some flexibility to ramp their worforce up or down based on conditions of their business and marketplace. Minus this flexibility, no modern company is going to hire.

But companies have gone to the other extreme and misused the flexibility to create completely unfair job practices. Take the case of the "Zero Hour Contract" - a British invention and used to the hilt by a wide swathe of so called respectable companies. As a worker you enter into a contract with the employer . but there are no working hours guaranteed, hence the name zero hours contract, You are expected to sit glued to the telephone. When they want you, they'll call you. You have to jump like a jackrabbit and run to the office or factory or store or whatever and you work for the hours they tell you to. You get paid (often the minimum wage) for the hours that you do. Then off you go without knowing whether you have to return tomorrow or not. Back to the vigil by the telephone. During this time, you cannot accept any other employment, even if the phone never rings. And when it rings, if you cannot come to work, you've really lost it and won't get an opportunity for quite some time.

Sports Direct has become the notorious poster boy for this with apparently 20,000 of their total 23,000 employees on Zero Hour Contracts.

This sort of behaviour is why companies and businessmen are hated by the general public, who think they have no scruples or morals in the eternal quest to make more money. Flexibility in the labour pool is one thing. But to keep 90% of your workforce 'flexible" and not even telling them whether they have to come to work tomorrow or not, is surely extreme. There is no business in the world which cannot know how many workers it needs for the next one month at least.  Some sort of rostering is surely possible. And preventing the guy from finding work elsewhere when you have nothing for him, is positively outrageous.

In such an atmosphere, how can there by any training or skills building. What sort of employee commitment can you expect.  Will the worker have one good word to say about the company. And you think this is an efficient business model. And this is a sustainable approach for success . Only a moron can think so.

Peculiarly, one of the organisations discovered to be using this rather widely is Buckingham Place !!  Pip Pip, Your Majesty - this is just not cricket !

Employers have to understand, and demonstrate, that if they want softer laws, they will have to behave reasonably and not exploit. If they can't, or won't, then they should stop moaning about excessively rigid labour laws.