This week, Business Minister Claire Perry made some pretty naive comments about zero hours contracts, having quite obviously never been in a position in which she would need to undertake one.She claims that most people are choosing zero hours contracts due to their great flexibility; I can’t speak for everyone, but I’d say that’s a painfully misguided statement, in the majority of circumstances.
I work a zero hours contract, and, yes, this means I have flexibility when it comes to managing my job alongside my degree, and reducing my hours when it comes to deadlines. However, as someone who works for a living, the hours that I need to work a week – no matter my educational workload- will never go below 16-20, therefore my zero hours are irrelevant. Yet, despite my personally required minimum hours, the business will not give me a contract, as keeping their employees all on zero hours is financially beneficial to them.
I didn’t choose this because it is flexible. I thoroughly wish that I had guaranteed weekly hours, so I’m not sat at the end of the month thinking shit, what now? This is what happened to me last month, when I had to take a week out of work for illness, and didn’t receive sick pay for this. Yes, statutory sick pay is available, but because I am zero hours, and am part-time term-time on a low wage, I do not earn the average minimum of £116 a week that you must earn in order to get SSP. Therefore, when I realised that my earnings would not cover my rent, I had to use some of my holiday pay (accrued at 7 mins holiday earned per hour worked), to fill this gap.
Arguably, zero hours contracts are flexible. But they don’t exist for wealthier people who do not need a guaranteed monthly income, but would like essentially freelance work – these people don’t tend to be the ones working their feet solid in zero hours service jobs. They exist for students who have rent to pay, for parents who have children to juggle around, whilst having rent and bills to pay. This is wrong.
I’m not saying that flexible working hours should not exist, in fact, I believe the opposite. My intention is to draw light to the fact that workers’ rights do not give people flexibility in the first place to manage having to work around studying, or raising children. That is the issue that forces people to work unreliable zero hours jobs, jobs that will not get them redundancy pay, perhaps miss out of sick pay, have reduced maternity pay, etc. We still live in an inherently sexist and classist society, in which mothers aren’t seen as workers, and the working class – those who NEED to work through university aren’t viewed as typical university candidates.
Zero hours contracts should not exist, because they are not contracts. But flexible employment that respects individual workers as individual human beings with lives outside their jobs, should.