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ZHCs September 23, 2016

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

This letter here in relation to a piece by Deborah Orr in the Guardian really gets to the heart of matters in regard to zero hour contracts. The writer notes that:

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].


1. Aonrud ⚘ - September 23, 2016

Here’s a disturbing image that was going around on Reddit yesterday.

I’ve no idea if it’s genuine, but I suppose the fact that it’s entirely plausible is alarming itself. Note the particularly creepy “Lyft family”.

It seems like, where exploitation once had to be concealed, the stark libertarianism has bedded in to such a degree in the broad ‘tech’ bubble that a new generation of companies not only don’t have to pretend, but present it as a virtue.


irishelectionliterature - September 23, 2016

Jesus that’s brutal, especially adding in the very short length of paid Maternity Leave in the US (although I assume Mary is a self employed contractor to Lyft, she won’t get any paid maternity leave).


Aonrud ⚘ - September 23, 2016

Yeah, it seems like enough push towards that self-employment model is a handy way to bypass employment rights entirely.

Didn’t that Deliveroo company try this recently?


LeftAtTheCross - September 23, 2016

That “family” shite is pretty pervasive I think these days. In the place I contract into, part of a US multinational, there are regular emails from admin/HR welcoming new born babies born to employees. This is the same company which is currently laying off staff with 2.5 weeks redundancy pay per year of service. It seems family loyalty is a one way street in the world of business. Quelle surprise.


Aonrud ⚘ - September 23, 2016

It’s unsettling, isn’t it? To be honest, I still consider ‘team’ to be corporate jargon 😉


sonofstan - September 23, 2016

Jesus Fucking Christ. That’s appalling.


2. Ed - September 23, 2016

Someone pointed out when the Orr column appeared that a few years back, she had written a perfectly competent article pointing out what was wrong with ZHCs. What’s changed in the meantime? Well, the sideswipe at You Know Who is a powerful clue … it says something about the utter frivolity of liberal commentators like Orr that they can completely flip position on an issue that matters a great deal to many people in Britain purely because of intellectual fashion (the wrong people are against this, so I can’t be against it either …). And the ‘yoga’ line would have been OTT in a Daily Mash parody of the Guardian, never mind the real thing.


3. dublinstreams - September 23, 2016

John Walshe education journalist and government adviser had a column Flexibility is the skill that our school-leavers need the most http://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/flexibility-is-the-skill-that-our-schoolleavers-need-the-most-34987203.html “young people will also need to develop the resilience to adapt to frequent job changes, periods of un- or under- employment, as well as periods of having multiple income sources.” charming


4. benmadigan - September 23, 2016

ZHC are just like the old labour shake-down at the docks for example .Before phones were widespread, people turned out for work hoping to be picked. Longshoreman/dockers unionisation helped put an end to it for a time but it’s now back with us in other sectors.
If employers were forced to pay an agreed percentage (say 50%) of hours workers are kept on stand-by waiting for a call ZHC would soon disappear!

Ps I’m not convinced ZHCs suit students and baby-sitters. Any I knew were always glad to have fixed hours (no matter how few a week e g 3 hours Friday childcare, cleaning or working in a bar/restaurant) and a fixed weekly pay for the hours they worked.


5. CL - September 23, 2016

-Mayor Bill de Blasio announced plans Thursday to curb unpredictable scheduling for fast-food workers, a problem that leads to “untenable situations,” he said.-


6. CMK - September 24, 2016

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