ZHCs September 23, 2016Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
Orr (A good job doesn’t have to be one for life, 10 September) greatly overstates the element of choice and autonomy that workers have over contractual arrangements such as zero-hours contracts (ZHCs) and so-called self-employment. The rationale for both transfers risk on to workers, in some cases to accommodate or avoid the “national living wage” (an hourly minimum which does not guarantee a living weekly wage). Both increase the power of employers and weaken that of workers. In the case of ZHCs, if workers do not make themselves available to employer demands, they will not be given the hours they need, and employers can dismiss workers at will by cutting their hours instead of having to go through formal dismissal procedures.
Similarly, “self-employment” is often bogus and hides unpaid labour. In parcel delivery, workers are paid by actual delivery (and not for non-delivery when those of us who order online are not in to receive parcels) and work 11- or 12-hour days to make a living and defray the costs of the vehicles they own or lease. If they are sick or want a holiday they have to pay the costs of “the employer” hiring an agency replacement – some rarely take holidays because of this. They may work alongside directly-employed workers with the same managers, but have no employment rights and can, again, be dismissed at whim.
And this is fundamentally the key…
Orr ignores the fact that choice is constrained, and this goes beyond the element of compulsion introduced by the benefits system. ZHCs might fit in with studying and childcare, but this is dependent upon (often working-class) students having to work because grants have been removed, to the detriment of their education, and upon (working-class) women having limited access to childcare or having to care for partners and older relatives. Young self-employed men might be happy to work 11 or 12 hours a day, but once they have children it denies them participation in childcare.
The language of ‘choice’ in all this is actually a mask for a reality of compulsion. And it conceals another aspect – as another letter writer notes, no holiday or sick pay. These aren’t additional extras. For workers in a raft of areas they are vital. What is needed is a genuine flexibility, but curiously the forms of work that are being imposed on workers seem to eschew that in preference of deeply anti-social and anti-worker structures.
And I’d add a further point. Orr makes the now characteristic point and mistake about ‘jobs for life’ not existing. It is something we see time and again from journalists and commentators who are often on contract to the media and who map their rather limited experience (or that of the class position – where some of those whose work patterns vary from jobs for life are actually rather privileged and have degrees of autonomy that most workers would kill for) onto other areas where it is deeply inappropriate. I don’t know about a job for life, as someone who has worked in the private sector or on contract to the PS since the late 1980s I’ve had a number of long-term jobs, that is ones that went on for over a decade. Those aren’t jobs for life, sure, but nor are they short term jobs either. And I suspect many, if not indeed most, workers experience something along those lines these days rather than rapid turnover of jobs.
But even more fundamentally decent jobs aren’t based on the length of time one is in them. They are about the terms and conditions, the wages, the sense that one isn’t being tolerated or employed on sufferance to be discarded at a whim and the reality of options beyond them when one leaves. Not all shorter term jobs are like that, but too many are. Far too many, and without something much more significant in terms of taking up the slack – ensuring that workers who do them are fully protected and have genuine prospects as well as, for want of a better word, a degree of transferable capital in terms of pension, wages and holiday rights, they’re a dismal option.
By the by, Orr gets in a dig at the idea of nationalisation under Jeremy Corbyn… ‘a past that failed’. Really? Really? [she might look at how limited the proposals from Corbyn are on nationalisation – energy and British Rail – both good but not exactly red revolution and by even 1970s BLP terms quite remarkably mild].