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Tuesday 6 August 2013

Zero Hours, Zero Clue

Following the revelation that as many as a million workers in the UK could be on so-called Zero Hours contracts – in other words, they are employed but not guaranteed as much as one hour’s work in any one week – there has been concern in Government at the numbers involved. Vince Cable has pledged to act if he finds widespread exploitation. But not everyone is so concerned.
Step forward “young fogey” Jacob Rees-Mogg (Eton and Trinity College, Oxford), Tory MP for North-East Somerset and now assured expert on all forms of part-time and self-employed work, as well as Zero Hours contracts. Rees-Mogg, it should be noted, is in full-time and permanent employment, as well as having a significant source of income from his own asset management company.

Rees-Mogg decries the mere “lefties” who do not share his enthusiasm for a wholesale return to casual labour. Instead, he enthuses “Zero-hours contracts offer an entry point for people who are either new to the workforce or have commitments that make it hard to work full-time”. Yes, like those things that we used to have called “jobs”, the horrible, old-fashioned entry point for those new to the workforce.

And what about the employers? “The benefits for employers are obvious: they do not need to pay for workers when there is nothing to be done, but equally can meet a surge in demand. In an age of considerable bureaucratic burdens a business knowing immediately that someone who has the relevant training is eligible to work in the United Kingdom is an important convenience and helps keep costs down”.

There is only one problem with this attitude, and it appears lost to Rees-Mogg: every one of those workers that employers “do not need to pay” has bills to pay, housing to rent, and perhaps others dependent on them. We don’t need lectures about how whizzo an idea casual labour is for employers, and equally, we don’t need to know where it can lead, because we’ve been here before.

Rees-Mogg mentions the self-employed, talking of “freelance work and sole trading”, telling that Zero Hours contracts are more secure. This is weapons grade bullshit. If a freelance has a contract, if it is for a set period of time, it will generally specify a number of hours’ work per week. He would be well advised to approach an agency, which would be more than willing to show him a sample.

That freelance – who may work through a service company, his or her own limited company, or as a sole trader – thereby has one heck of a lot more security than the poor souls on Zero Hours contracts. Moreover, they too are part of the “flexible labour market” that this prime example of what Robin Day rightly called “here today and gone tomorrow politicians” thinks is such a wonderful thing.

It is a pity that Zero Hours contracts cannot be extended to Rees-Mogg himself.

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