Recently I’ve had a few people commenting to me that zero-hours contracts (ZHCs) are not malignant or exploitative, but rather vital to business and employment. Just a few minutes ago I watched a business owner, on BBC Programme “The Big Questions”, completely misrepresent ZHCs as giving flexibility to one of his older workers who doesn’t want to work full-time and great for young people, when the reality is that a ZHC puts the employee completely at the convenience of the employer.
The following was posted as a comment to my first blog article about ZHCs. It tells its own story, which I won’t embellish except to say that it shows perfectly how these abhorrent contracts are being exploited by unscrupulous companies to put the people under them in an invidious position:
Hi Steve, I recently moved from a Relief (casual) to zero-hour contract along with every other Relief staff member of my national social care employer. Here is a slightly redacted copy of my submission to the ‘consultation’. This move followed the removal of TUPE rights for all contracted staff and the loss of sick pay for the first three days of absence for contracted employees.
I have read the pack and the intranet guidance on the relief proposals and, frankly, am appalled. I will be in [the office] on Tuesday but here are a few thoughts before I see you.
The zero-hours contract we are being asked to sign is horrid! At the moment, relief work is a two-way understanding: [The company] don’t have to offer work and we don’t have to accept it.
Now the balance of power is all one way. We can’t expect to be offered any work but are expected to be available at all the times we state on the form. We can be pulled part-way through a shift and lose the rest of the hours we were booked to work. We will never be classed as having any service to the company – ten years of regular work would count for nothing as far as length of service goes. We have no employment rights. Finally, the tone of the covering letter makes no pretence that this is a consultation in anything but name – this is clearly going to happen no matter what.
I have 4.5 years service and am writing this after giving advice to a prospective assistant manager, writing up two Mental Capacity Assessments and completing a cost breakdown and support outline for a meeting I’m having with a Social Worker tomorrow. I am a Senior Support Worker until I step down under the restructure, and make myself available at all hours to help out Support Workers and managers by telephone; kind of an unofficial on-call for the day-to-day stuff. Basically I believe I am an important part of the service, not the peripheral throwaway interchangeable body assumed by the new contract. I am not alone in this: many relief staff pull in 40-50 hour weeks in tough times and basically keep the services going; it is wrong to demean their contribution in this way. By the way, I remain on relief for the benefit of the company: as a single Dad who has to be home every night for my two-year old I thought it unfair to the rest of the team to apply for a contract when my hours and availability are restricted.
We have current adverts out for Relief Support Workers for £6.89 per hour under the old contracts, and recent recruits at that wage will not receive a consultation pack [only staff with a minimum length of service and hours worked were sent a pack]. How would you feel if you received a 4% pay cut and a more restrictive contract mere weeks after starting your own job, or while still waiting for your start date? Is it even legal? We rely on regular relief staff as cover and our fallback is an agency where we offer £6.50-£8.29 per hour plus agency fees for. Scrimping on the basic terms and conditions for in-house staff is a false economy in my opinion.
My suggestions in all this?
Increase the pay offer to £6.89 in line with contract support workers, and do the same across the country to show that relief workers are valuable.
Count time working regularly on relief towards length of service, including weeks when nothing can be offered.
Pay a full shift if cancelled within 24 hours of when it is due to start.
Set up a calendar system where we can block times we are unavailable on a real-time basis so managers can see when we have commitments elsewhere such as family or other jobs, rather than the unbalanced proposal where we have to offer everything and you nothing.
Above all, don’t treat us like second-class citizens if you expect any kind of respect for the company. To the people I support and my colleagues; always. But not to [the company].
A final thought: this offer fits in beautifully with the ex-gratia payment made a while back to show how much [the company] valued its staff. Relief workers got a big fat nothing. Now you’re doing it again.