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The dark side of zero hours contracts


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I have a friend who runs a “man with van” service which offers an on-call service. Times are hard and to build a bit of stability into his portfolio, he took a contract to do deliveries for a local supermarket store, one of the big ones. It’s a Zero Hours affair and he needs the work to maintain his mortgage payments.

So, he must block put one evening a week to work for the supermarket. The day varies each week which makes his other enterprise difficult to run, but he must put up and shut up.

He arrives on shift at 5 pm to find out that he has one delivery at 11 pm and nothing else. His coworkers have similar rosters. No one can leave the store, but also, he will only earn whilst he delivers for the one hour he is working from the 7.5 he is contracted to deliver. As a result of his efforts, his wages are well below the minimum wage.

Another week, he is phoned 10 minutes before the shift starts and told not to come in. His earnings are zero. What does he do economically with his time for that evening?

He does this for a few weeks and then speaks with the manager, suggesting all kinds of ways of making things better for all concerned and is told “That’s not the way we do things here”. The manager knows that he has a ready supply of drivers in the market, so he can more or less treat people as he likes. He has the support of the HR function in doing this.

His co-workers all have similar problems, but see no profit in rocking the boat, so all suffer in silence, with little or no commitment to the company.

Talking with another young person friend of mine, I find this is not confined to one supermarket. He works an upmarket supermarket chain and says that “the manager treats them like cr..p”.  He describes similar behaviour that we would have recognised as part of the Victorian Workhouse culture.

Do HR consider the effects of Zero Hours Contracts on people? Do they think about how it impacts their brand?

One Response

  1. No, they don’t think about
    No, they don’t think about how it impacts their brand; because, at present it doesn’t really impact their brand or even call much comment. Personally, I think it is a shameful way to treat people. You say that the drivers have no real commitment to the company; of course not, the company has not committed to them -no security, no development – no trust on either side. And, yes, it harks back to the days of an unprotected workforce who could be exploited by employers because there is a huge pool of people desperate for any kind of work they can get.

    If I wanted to boycott all the retailers and other companies who use zero hours contracts like this I’d be confined to shopping at the farmer’s market and charity shops which wouldn’t work that well for me!

    A caller on Any Answers just pointed out that as a self-employed person he is essentially on a zero hours contract. I’m freelance, so the same, but at least I have some control over when I work and what I work on and love it. I’m glad I don’t have to try to get a job in a supermarket though; there but for the grace of …!

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