Vince Cable and Zero Hours Contracts (part 2)

Tonight’s meeting was organised by 38 Degrees – and was the first such meeting that they had put together. The audience was diverse and while there was a lot of anger at the Coalition Government, it wasn’t party political. People brought their own firsthand experience of working on zero hours contracts. There was a lot passion, a lot of anger and a lot of pain.

I went with one question: would the proposed protections for zero hours contract workers also apply to workers like my husband on an 8 hour contract but who endures many of the same issues – irregular hours, wage insecurity and practical barriers to securing a second job. I said that it was all very well banning exclusivity clauses but if you don’t know from week to week what days of the week you are going to work then it can be difficult to find an additional source of income and this traps workers on part time wages. My husband had lost out on two second jobs because of this problem.

The answer – to my surprise – was that no, short hours contracts weren’t covered as their remit had only been to deal with zero hours contracts.  Right there is a gaping loophole that unscrupulous employers will exploit. If they want to impose exclusivity clauses on their zero hours contract workers, they will simply move these workers onto short hours contracts – maybe for as few as a couple of hours a week.

The growth of zero hours contracts is a symptom of much more profound problems in our economy: the growing insecurity inherent in our job market. This insecurity ripples throughout the rest of life. It prevents workers taking on the sort of financial commitments that lead to financial independence: a tenancy or a mortgage, a car loan – even a mobile phone contract is difficult to obtain without a decent credit rating. Job insecurity also impacts on family security: children growing up in transient households, moving homes – and schools – throughout their childhood.

Once upon a time, we had a solution to these sorts of issues. They were called trade unions. Maybe we need to revisit how they brought prosperity and financial security to working people.