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Zero hour contracts: UK employment success is a fallacy

The government may be quick to boast of record-high employment levels over the past year, but in reality UK employment is more unstable than ever.

The majority of jobs contributing to the rising employment levels are low paid, part-time and insecure.

So while many people no longer qualify as unemployed, they are still not making the money they need to live on. In fact, they may even be worse off as working more than 16 hours per week means they no longer qualify for Job Seeker’s Allowance or Income Support.

Last year, the Resolution Foundation found that around five million additional hours are required per week to meet the demands of underemployed workers in the UK.

Even more dangerous than increased part-time employment, is the rise in employers offering zero-hour contracts.

Zero-hour contracts mean workers have no guarantee of income as employers can decide what hours to allocate them on a week-by-week basis. The number of UK workers on this type of contract is now bordering on one million.

Zero-hour contracts are not only a massive detriment to income security, but to social and personal lives as well. Workers can’t consolidate plans until up to a week in advance as they don’t know when they will be required to work. For the same reason, it is difficult for someone on a zero-hour contract to work more than one job.

The use of zero-hour contracts also allows employers to side-step unfair dismissal laws. UK employment law states that an employer must have a valid reason for firing someone; if not they have to be offered a redundancy. However, if somebody is on a zero-hour contract their employer can simply stop giving them hours, creating a de facto firing.

While many argue that zero-hour contracts offer flexibility, this flexibility almost always benefits the employer, not the employee. Although there may be cases in which the employee has some input into how many hours they work on any particular week, the end decision is always the employer’s.

If an individual requires a job in which the hours vary week-by-week, this can still be obtained without a zero-hour contract. Instead, the job contract should specify a weekly minimum or an average number of hours-the average hours to be met with to a specified degree of accuracy.

A further issue regarding unstable employment, is that some companies pay individuals on the basis that they are representatives or contractors rather than employees. This allows them to side-step hourly minimum wage rates and other benefits such as holiday pay.

This kind of work includes the likes of Avon Reps who are technically classified as being self-employed.

This type of dubious pseudo-employment has reached headlines recently regarding Deliveroo, a fast-food distribution company that has been known to target students specifically.

Deliveroo claim that paying distributors by delivery rather than an hourly wage and denying them fundamental worker’s rights is legal because distributors classify as self-employed contractors.

However, a representative from the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain has disputed this claim on the basis that Deliveroo distributors are required to wear uniforms, to work on particular days and to follow direct instructions from Deliveroo.

All these elements suggest that Deliveroo distributors should be legally recognised as employees, and be subject to worker’s right.

It’s not just workers who are suffering from the rise in unstable employment either. Last month’s estimates suggested that £4 billion per year in potential tax revenue is lost as a result of underemployment. That means less money for the Treasury, meaning less money into essential services like education and the NHS.

The optimistic light we have come to consider UK employment these past few months is based on misconceptions and government misrepresentations. Increased employment is not always good- and this is something we must come to realise.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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