One of the real worries for many people nowadays is job security, with the rapid growth in the number of so-called “zero hours” contracts – meaning that you do not know how many hours work you will get each week, with all the worries that brings about whether you will have enough money to pay the bills. As Ed Miliband has reiterated this week, we have promised that a future Labour Government will tackle the abusive use of zero hours contracts, insisting that where workers are in fact working regularly, then proper contracts should be offered. Councillors are already looking to improve Carmarthenshire’s practices in this respect.
It is important to remember that zero hours contracts are also zero rights contracts, and this may often be the real reason that employers use them, rather than because they cannot predict how many hours’ work they require: employees with some contractual hours have more employment rights than those on zero hours contracts who have no entitlement to statutory notice period, statutory redundancy pay, unfair dismissal rights or family friendly rights.
Three of the large supermarket chains where the trade union Usdaw has recognition do not have any zero hours contracts – which demonstrates that it is possible to be a successful business without using zero hours contracts. Usdaw has negotiated flexible contracts and annualised hours contracts to provide workers with guaranteed hours but still give the business flexiblity.
The real scourge of workplaces staffed by zero rights contract workers is that they live in permanent fear of being fired, and so they are not in position to negotiate anything. Tackling the zero hours culture is vital in order to give greater security to workers and empower them to begin asking even for the most modest improvements in working conditions.