I have just watched a report on the BBC about the increase in the hated ‘No-Hours Contracts’. They have gone up by over 20%, and many people working them have now done so for more than a year.
If you don’t know anything about this shameful practice, it goes something like this.
You apply for a job that you have seen advertised. It is generally a very low wage, often the national minimum rate. You are happy to be told that you have the job, but there is no formal employment contract. You do not have any set working pattern, and no formal structure in terms of a working week, or daily hours. Instead, you are told from one day to the next when you will be required. You can be sent home at any time, or even turned away when you arrive, as no longer necessary. You are paid only for the hours that you actually work, and penalised for lateness too. Breaks are unpaid, and there is no provision for paid holidays, or inclusion in a pension scheme. After a while, you might just be not offered any hours at all, if this suits the employer.
This means that you have a job, so do not feature on the unemployment statistics. That makes those figures look very good, and the government seem to be on track. But what sort of a job is it? One where you never know if and when you might work, or how much you can expect to earn in any given week, or month. You cannot apply for credit, loans, or mortgages based on an unknown income; so forget buying a car, or saving up to buy your own house, or for a holiday. You also do not qualify for unemployment benefits, even if you have not worked any hours that week. Because you have a job. And you can’t just go off and work somewhere else in the meantime, because you have to admit to being ’employed’.
These are working conditions we haven’t seen since the dark days of Dickensian Britain. They amount to little more than bondage, with the unfortunates tied into non-existent ‘contracts’ that make them work at any time, for any hours, on the whim of a capricious employer. Bend the rules, or break one, and you are dismissed without a second thought. Forget Trade Unions, as they do not apply if you have no working agreement with them. Industrial Tribunals are also toothless in these cases. After all, you signed up knowing the conditions, didn’t you? Try to organise fellow workers, and you will soon find that you no longer get offered any hours. These people are trapped in a vicious and unforgiving system that seems incredible in 2016.
So who are these employers, abusing people openly and callously with these scandalous contracts? Large retail chains are one of the biggest culprits. Warehouse-based Internet companies, catering and fast-food suppliers are not blameless either. But it is becoming more widespread. The Care Industry is embracing the idea at an alarming rate. No longer having to pay staff for the time spent travelling to and from clients, but only for the time they have allocated necessary to ‘care’ for them. Get pregnant, and things can change very quickly too. You have a no-hours contract, so you are unlikely to get paid for time off to have the baby, or have a job to come back to later. As the profitability of using these degrading contracts becomes more apparent, more and more companies and organisations are jumping on the bandwagon. The present government, with its friends and donors from big business, has no intention of changing anything soon.
This is our disgrace, and our shame. History will judge those responsible.