The Zero Hours Contract debate rumbles on.
Are these contracts about flexibility and choice, or are they a race to the bottom? Are they about coffee shops and MacBooks, or exploitative and a symbol of a two-tier workforce? Are they the dark side of the gig economy?
You can find arguments and opinion to support both frames of reference.
The answer is that they are probably both, depending on your personal circumstances and experiences. For some, they equal freedom and flexibility. For others, the best that they can get.
But Zero Hours Contracts are only part of the story. The rest of the narrative is about low paid, low hours work – whatever the contractual status.
Now anyone who has every used a job alert service via a job board will know that their algorithms are…. interesting. As a result of a request to receive notifications for new HR roles, I’ve recently been sent information on roles for financial accountants, software developers and chefs. Some of which were in France. Someone in my timeline recently commented that the criteria for receiving a notification from some job boards amounted to nothing more than ‘do you have an email address and are you alive?’
One such recent notification caught my eye….for all the wrong reasons.
It was for a leading retailer. Paying the national minimum wage. For eight hours each week.
Now you might think that there is nothing wrong with an eight hour per week contract. It’s better than a Zero Hours one perhaps. There are plenty of people who might value eight hours of paid employment. A student looking to work whilst studying. Someone seeking a second job to top up their income. The only problem that I could see was exactly when the eight hours were taking place. Because it could be anytime at all. The shop was open 12 hours each day, seven days per week. And the role required total flexibility – actual shifts notified on a weekly basis. Applying for, and accepting, a position meant agreeing to working those hours whenever.
What would this mean in practice for the successful applicant? Less than £60 per week, before deductions. A limited ability to secure other work around that contact. An inability to plan, arrange childcare, make any advance arrangements. Waiting on a whim.
This isn’t flexibility and choice. This is barely a weekly food shop for most families.
There are no good reasons that I can think of that a major retailer could not, with some planning and foresight, make this a fixed set of hours or days, or at least offer reasonable parameters or some certainly. It smacks of lazy management. There is something just a little arrogant about it too.
I can’t think what it would be like to be employed in this way. Wondering if there will be any overtime this week. Wondering if this is the week that your boss will give you a shift that you just can’t get childcare for. When exactly your hours will fall, if there is any other way to increase your income.
While we debate concepts like meaningful work, workplace democracy, employee engagement and all of that people stuff, let us also look in our own back yards.
Do the jobs, and their design, where you work, allow your employees the basic dignity of both living and working? Or does the way that the work is organised cause stress and uncertainty for the people that undertake it? Do those jobs and their design enable both parties…. or just the organisation?
When we have a resourcing requirement, when we start drafting that job description and advert, we need to think not only about the needs of the organisation, but the needs of the individual who will be doing the work.
Contracts have many implied terms, amongst all the express ones. Maybe it is about time that humanity become one of them.