The UK has been taking a battering by Storm Emma which saw Central Scotland get a rare red weather warning from the Met Office. The severe red warning lasted for nearly 24hrs and saw many workplaces close down early on Wednesday the 28th of February. A red weather warning means a danger to life and infrastructure. Although the advice from The Scottish Government was to “not travel unless absolutely necessary” it was reported that lorries had jack-knifed and caused travel chaos on the M80 and other main roads in Scotland. Many drivers were stuck on roads over night which is incredibly dangerous. The weather was so severe that a carer lost her life in Glasgow whilst traveling between clients. My thoughts have been with that carers family and friends all day and how horrible that must have been to get that news. All essential work staff have had to carry on as best they can and we should all pay gratitude and reflect on those people during times of adverse weather.
My article is to illuminate an issue which I spend a lot of time researching through university and follow in UK politics; precarious work and zero hour contracts. In extreme circumstances like this the injustices of zero hour contracts are highlighted for all to see in a much more obvious way. Many of the people who serve your coffee in the morning, pour your pint in the pub or deliver your Amazon Prime parcels will be subjected to some form of precarious working practices. These can include ‘self-employed’ style working arrangements or no guaranteed hours in an employee’s contract. This means the employer does not have to give hours to an employee but can call upon them to work when the business requires them.
What this means is when an employee’s services are not needed, during a snow storm for example, the shift can be cancelled and they will receive no pay. This can happen the day before, an hour before the shift or even during the shift if the workplace isn’t busy. This can cause financial insecurity for an employee and they could fall into in-work poverty which is a growing trend across the UK.
In situations where an organisation closes due to weather, and they employ staff on precarious working arrangements, the staff member will not be paid for any hours they were meant to be working. There could be situations where good bosses offer to pay holidays for the employees that miss out but I would argue that would be the slim minority. If the organisation was to remain closed for a two or three days that could be a huge chunk of an employees wages gone for that week. Employee’s on these types of contracts are not protected by any legislation which would provide them financial security when their hours are cut; even in weather related instances.
If an organisation was to stay open, which many did despite the red weather warning, then the employee has a dilemma. The management would expect the employee to come into work which could be dangerous or result in walking; as public transport would likely be suspended. I saw on the Better Than Zero social media page stories of retail and hospitality staff being threatened with losing their job if they never came in to work.
This seems alien to many workers as that is unthinkable, or at least illegal, to just sack someone on a hoof. Yes, that is true but an employee on a zero hour contract is not guaranteed hours so that employee could just never be scheduled again to work for that organisation. The threat is very daunting and legitimately worrying for many workers on zero hour contracts. It is quite literally an employee having to choose between risking their well-being by traveling to work or going without pay and potentially loosing their job.
It is absolutely outrageous isn’t it?These types of contracts are becoming more and more common in service work and highly ‘student populated’ workplaces. So much so that in 2015-16 they grew in usage by over 300%. They are also being used in highly skilled jobs too such as university lecturing, tutoring and the social care sector.
The saddest thing about this is in Scotland we have a majority in The Scottish Parliament in favour of banning zero hour contracts. All parties apart from The Scottish Conservative Party want to ban or at least heavily legislate and regulate their use.
Unfortunately, employment law and policy are reserved to Westminster and The Conservative Government will not regulate these types of working arrangements. They will not do anything about them as it fits with their ideology of the free market and neo-liberalism. These contracts give the employer flexibility to reduce their staffing levels in times of low demand and maintain a stable level of productivity. Having flexibility means that formal redundancy processes do not have to be followed and ultimately means profit maximisation for shareholders. We must continue to put pressure on MPs, and other suitable representatives, to debate precarious working practices and regulate these to help combat in-work poverty. These employment practices are unfair and are not conducive to a healthy and equal economy. They also do not give the employee other common workers rights such as adequate paid leave and sick pay. It is also found that workers on zero hour contracts are likely to be: on minimum wage, students or part-time workers and are predominately women.
We should not be using people for short term profit gain. These working practices are not ethical or fair and we should be campaigning collectively to see the end of zero hour contracts and precarious work in general.
What do you think?
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