Quarter of unemployed offered zero hour contracts - this is why they're wrong

Thu, 20/08/2015 - 13:31 -- nick

A quarter of all unemployed people have been offered zero hour contracts.

This shock finding comes from recruitment group Glassdoor, which also showed that more than half of unemployed people turned them down, primarily because they needed guaranteed income to be able to afford to get off benefits.

In the recent noise around zero hour contracts many of the key reasons for opposing them have been forgotten.

They bring many problems to the unemployed, from the fact that they don't guarantee an income for those who have guaranteed bills, to the problem that their holders are counted as employed when they might not be, skewing the figures; sanctions can be given to unemployed people who refuse to take them because of the lack of income and the exclusivity issue, which prevents some from looking for other work even where they haven't been given any hours for months, prevents many from pursuing other options.

There is significant doubt whether it should even be possible to call a zero hour contract a 'job', bearing in mind that during the time when the holder isn't given any hours it really isn't one.

Glassdoor found that only 40% of unemployed people would take one of these contracts, and this drops to less than a quarter of older people.

The concept has become so toxic that hated Department for Work and Pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith has proposed renaming them 'flexible contracts' to overcome their negative image.

This is a pathetic response to a growing problem - the number working under this arrangement has tripled since his government came to power in 2010 to 700,000.

Whatever they are called they still carry all the problems above, and lack many of the basic employment rights a civilised society demands, including sick pay and maternity pay.

There are very restricted circumstances where they may be the right choice, but the majority who work under them are in low-paid sectors like retail, hospitality and care work, and zero hour contracts are usually a way of reducing their income further.

It is also helps to subsidise company profits from the public purse; one of the less-discussed aspects of Universal Credit is that it is designed to make it easier for people to take short-term and temporary employment, giving companies a ready pool of labour available without notice and supported by tax payers when not needed, meaning the company does not need to commit to the worker financially but the state does.

The huge problems of these arrangements, and their rapid growth, mean any serious government should be legislating to end them in most circumstances.

Jeremy Corbyn, the front runner in the Labour leadership contest, has promised to do so.

This stands in stark contrast to the government's desire to cover up their issues by simply replacing the 'zero' with a 'flexible' and hoping we will all look the other way as hundreds of thousands of primarily poor workers are made poorer and the state picks up the tab.