Monday, 28 April 2014

Zero Hours: Now the Norm for the Young Working Class

"If we tolerate this, then our children will be next.." goes the song lyric.

Never has a line been more prophetic than on the subject of zero hours agency employed contracts for the new generation of 16+ working class jobs. My 21 year old son had friends round and one of them who had been unemployed over the winter had found a job at a local factory, employed by an agency on a zero hours contract. He was genuinely relieved and delighted after his previous job had been in an independent shop which had gone out of business. Our conversation was-

" Couldn't the factory employ you themselves for a 3 month trial then offer you a full time position?"
"The factory doesn't employ anyone directly. We're all agency staff."
"But after a successful period, surely they take on their own staff as they would want stability?"
" No. The agency told me I was lucky to get the job as people who couldn't provide their own safety boots themselves were put on the waiting list."
"As the agency are the employer they should be providing safety gear to you anyway" I said, genuinely aghast.

My sons friend looked at me blankly and then a sudden sick reality dawned on me. This younger generation have no concept of what a directly employed, full time contract job is, where employers value the stability and health and safety of employees and after a probationary period ongoing training and "getting on" with wage increments is normal. Now the ball is firmly in the employers court with a young generation who simply have no idea or expectation of "normal" work practice.

Some employers like several supermarkets and shops circumnavigate accusations of zero hours contracts by offering staff very low hours contracts instead. For example a local Supermarket employs a friend of mine on night shifts  at a guaranteed 7 hours work per week. He never knows from one week to the next whether he will be working full time or part time. He can't take the risk of renting privately with his girlfriend in case his hours literally go down to 7 hours per week, so at the age of 32 he is living with parents.

My generation of 40+ has a moral duty to both educate and campaign for whole scale reform on agencies and zero hours contracts. While Ed Milibands  announcement to restrict zero hours contracts to staff employed for less than 12 months, Labour need to go much further and outlaw zero hours, unless Jobseekers actively seeking agency flexible work want that non commitment. Any shop, factory taking on workers for say a 12 week probationary period should then employ staff on a full time contract, if that employee requires full time work or on a part time contract which traditionally has been 16 hours per week in the past. Zero hours contracts should be in the hands of those seeking flexible working conditions, not in the hands of huge corporations and shop chains, recruiting via agencies to get the cheapest, easily sackable work force it can.

Education by unions in schools for children in both primary and high schools is key. We cannot let a generation of children think they are powerless in the face of employers who have created a whole new army of people: the working poor. With 6.1 million working people now experiencing poverty and hardship, resorting to Foodbanks and choosing heat or eat, the time has come to redress this imbalance. If 21 year olds think zero hours is normal practice already, imagine what the generation still in school currently will come to see as "normal"?

Zero or very little hours contracts are the scourge of this Coalition government, putting  every playing card into the hands of the employer give ping them an easily disposable workforce with no conditions attached. After unions and the Labour Party had vigourously campaigned and won hard fought for conditions like holiday pay, sickness pay, maternity leave and pay, these rights have been eroded at a fantastical rate since 2010.

And don't believe for one minute as you are reading this that a protest vote for Ukip is the way forward! Forget immigration for a moment. Ukip are against maternity pay, paternity leave, and most rights in the workplace. They will place MORE power in the hands of employers to sack workers with no notice, make it hard for women to contemplate starting a family and returning to their old job, and will privatise the entire public sector. We all know what privatisation has brought to us since the Thatcher era? Rail journeys we can't afford and  electric gas and water that we can barely afford to turn on either!

Our children really are next. In fact zero hours as the norm is here now. You and I have to ensure that zero hours agency work is not here to stay. Educate your children, use your vote wisely in 2015 as a useless vote for Ukip lets Cameron sneak through the back door of No 10 for another 5 years, and join workplace and community campaigns that are springing up around the UK in retaliation to this attack on our livelihoods and our children's future. We owe our kids not to be working in soulless menial jobs without the security of even being able to afford a roof over their heads. Above all encourage them to join a union -today.