Zero Hours Isn’t Working

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Growing numbers of people in Britain work in insecure jobs. They have no guaranteed income
and few employment rights, Lesley Ellis writes 

About 3.7 million people in the UK today work in insecure jobs*.

Eight times more UK workers are now on zero-hour contracts than 20 years ago – people in the gig economy, working for agencies or through contractors – and their numbers are growing.

New laws fail

Laws brought in last year to improve work security have failed to protect basic employment rights, such as health and safety protection, redundancy pay if you are laid off, a pension when you retire and the right not to be unfairly dismissed.

If your weekly income averages less than £123, you are still not entitled to any form of sick pay.

Young workers hit

Young people are particularly badly affected by zero-hour employment. A Prince’s Trust survey shows that one in three 18- to-24 year-olds now works in a non-typical, often insecure job. One young person described how, as a student, he worked evening pub shifts. More than once, he arrived at the pub to be told he was not needed for the shift after all. He was not recompensed for the lost work, nor for his travel time. This practice was not at all uncommon, he told me. Flexible-hours work such as bar shifts and delivery jobs suits some people, especially students looking for a few hours to fit around studies. But many young, and indeed older, workers urgently need a full week’s regular, reliable paid work and a predictable income they can live on. At present, millions of workers in the UK cannot look forward or even start to plan their futures.

Anxiety and stress

Financial instability can seriously impact mental health. In Sam Gruet’s recent BBC Newsbeat interview, one 22 year-old described how he had worked zero-hours jobs, such as cold-calling and factory shifts, since leaving school. The stress and insecurity had taken him to ‘the darkest place’. He said, ‘I would never wish it on anyone.’

The UK employment market is not working fairly for millions of people. How can this be fixed?

Labour plans to tackle the problem with a new deal for working people. In government, Labour will raise the minimum wage in line with the cost of living. Boosting people’s income will raise many people out of working poverty, and will be good for the economy. Better pay would end the self-defeating low wage, low investment, and low productivity cycle that our country has suffered for the last decade.

Protecting all workers

Labour will also strengthen protection for all workers by banning zero-hours contracts, outlawing the practice of bogus self- employment and ending qualifying periods for basic rights. Currently, working people have to wait up to two years for basic rights, for example for protection against unfair dismissal and entitlement to sick pay. Under Labour, all working people will be entitled to these from day one.

Help Labour Win

To get involved, and help Labour fight the Tories, win the next election and end these unfair working practices, email [email protected] or visit labour.org.uk.

*Estimate TUC General Council Report, 2022

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