Zero-hour Contracts: Time to fight back

Recently Sports Direct were forced to review its company’s working practices over its use of zero-hour contracts after coming under fire over its mistreatment of workers.

In particular from the Guardian newspaper, which included a campaign from the trade union Unite. The company has now promised to scrap zero hour contracts and said it will offer its workers fixed term contracts and has guaranteed to pay them a minimum wage. The ensuing publicity led to Sports Direct’s founder, Mike Ashley, issuing an apology to its workers, acknowledging serious short-comings in its treatment of workers.

The recent surge in workers on zero-hour contracts has once again fuelled debate on the issue, drawing fierce criticism from trade unions and Labour party politicians, many calling for the controversial contracts to be banned. More than 900,000 people are now employed on zero-hour contracts in the UK, representing a jump of 20 per cent in the past year alone, according to figures released by the Office of National Statistics.

Many people believe that such controversial working practices are exploitive and oppressive and are calling for them to be banned.  Arguing they belong in the Victorian era and have no place in the modern workplace. It may suit some people, such as seasonal workers or students or those working part-time, but for the majority of workers the insecure and precarious nature of zero-hour contracts with the constant worry about whether you’ll have enough hours to work in order to pay your bills and support a family, from one week to the next, cannot be good for the individual’s health. Unhealthy workers are not good for business and therefore cannot be good for the economy.

Speaking at this week’s annual TUC conference their general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said that Sports Direct may be in the spotlight now, but there are other companies that bring shame on our country: “So let me give fair warning to any greedy business that treats its workers like animals – we will shine a light on you.”  

The Unite leader, Len McCluskey, has demanded the government take action and ban the use of zero-hour contracts.  Urging the Prime Minister, Theresa May, to follow the lead of New Zealand which passed legislation outlawing the practice, earlier this year, in March.

The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has also backed calls by trade unions and others for zero-hour contracts to be banned and has pledged to outlaw zero-hour contracts if he’s elected Prime Minister. These unscrupulous employers, who often pay many of its workers below minimum wages, need to be named and shamed and more pressure must be brought on the government to outlaw such shameful practices.

A welcome development has been the decision by the pub chain JD Wetherspoon to end zero-hour contracts and offer its staff fixed hour contracts. The move has been welcomed by the TUC, and more companies are expected to follow suit. Therefore illustrating that people power, working alongside trade unions, can take on businesses that exploit its workers by forcing and shaming them into reviewing their unscrupulous working practices. This sends out a loud and clear message that they cannot expect to get away with it without being challenged.

Organised labour, especially through trade unions, gives workers a collective voice with the power to take on firms that exploits its workforce. We need to challenge the neo-liberal policies of austerity, this government has inflicted on workers, which allows greedy bosses to use zero-hour contracts and other unscrupulous working practices. Workers deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Let’s fight back and increase the pressure on the government until they follow the lead of the New Zealand government and ban zero-hour contracts. 

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