By Linda Kelly, IMPACT organiser, on behalf of the IMPACT youth committee
The trend of employers creating jobs using “zero-hours”contracts is a matter of growing concern for workers and unions, as employers take the opportunity to exploit a ‘buyer’s market’for jobs.
Zero-hours refers to contractual “on call” arrangements for employees, with no obligations on the employer to provide work. Under these arrangements, employees agree to be available for work as and when required. No particular number of hours or times of work are specified, and employees are expected to be on call, only receiving compensation for any hours worked.
For workers this increases the risk of unpredictable hours and earnings. Employers are also in a position to use zero-hours arrangements as a tool to reward, or indeed punish, workers for pretty much any reason they choose. In such circumstances, it is practically impossible for workers to assert their employment rights or maintain decent employment conditions.
The practice is been controversial in the UK, where it’s being used by a wide range of employers in retail, hospitality and other service industries. The opportunities to exploit workers, increase profits and boast of job creation are almost endless. We need to guard against the practice becoming more widespread in Ireland, and young workers are taking note.
The Young Workers Network has joined the call to end zero hour contracts, and is holding a public meeting at 12pm on Saturday 19th April in Liberty Hall.
Laura McKenna of the Young Workers’ Network told me why they have begun a campaign on the issue “Zero hour contracts provide workers with no guaranteed hours of work. This makes it extremely difficult for workers on these contracts to have a decent standard of living because they don’t how many hours work and wages they will be getting each week.”
The campaign is now being supported by IMPACT’s youth committee. Chairperson Shane Lambert said “I think it is a crazy situation where a person is effectively employed but has no guarantee of income or regular working hours and it simply should not be allowed to happen.”
Ed Walsh, Roscommon branch, describes zero-hours contracts as “an affliction on people’s employment rights who are left in limbo from week to week and have no certainty of an income.”
Dave Sexton, of the Connacht/Ulster SNA branch said that the issue of zero-hour contracts is growing as more and more employers opt in. “This is an issue that needs to be confronted urgently. This is what IMPACT’s youth committee is about, developing policies and supporting campaigns to protect young workers. Zero-hours amounts to a form of slavery, we cannot allow it to take hold as the country begins to emerge from recession.”
For more on this subject watch: Zero-hours contracts: are they bad for workers? A five minute debate (video from The Guardian)
See also: Work & Life magazine, issue 24 (Winter/Spring 2014) – Short Cuts – Employers benefit