Theresa May announced on Wednesday that ‘We are proud to have record levels of employment this country but we must also ensure that rights are always upheld’. This is pure political point scoring, and should be taken with a very large dose of salt. For several years now the government has peddled the myth that employment measures in our country, such as zero hour contracts, favour the employee.
The reality is that zero hour contracts still favour the employer, and play a significant role in the manipulated employment figures presented to the public by the government. Theresa May, and David Cameron before her, have constructed a narrative of a fruitful, flexible relationship between the employer and employee in terms of their relationship in zero hours contracts. In truth, many twenty somethings like myself, having worked under these contracts for various companies, are being exploited.
According to The Times, ‘the government said it was proceeding with almost all recommendations including giving zero hour and agency workers the right to request a more stable contract’. It is a farce that so many employers have been able to exploit employees so crudely by not actually signing a legitimate contract, yet such rampant unprofessionalism operates every day – more often than not to suit a company’s own corrupt agenda.
Initially, in the application process, a vacuous verbal promise is made by the employer that you will be given, say, a minimum of twenty hours a week of work. Often as soon as you have worked, for argument’s sake, two weeks, it becomes apparent that you will be given roughly eight hours of work a week, often with a big gap between each shift and on a measly minimum wage, without a proper contract.
Employers would argue, as have the government in the past, that zero hour contracts allow freedom and flexibility on behalf of the employer. Frequently this so-called ‘freedom’ serves only to suit the company’s own needs, as and when they feel like it. As soon as you show willing for more hours, you are fobbed off with excuses such as lack of hours available, and end up having to put up with the bare minimum, with no sense of stability from one week to the next.
Following May’s speech today, based on a review headed by Tony Blair’s former policy director, the TUC’s general secretary, Frances O’Grady, added: ‘These plans won’t stop the hire and fire culture of zero hours contracts or sham self employment, and they will still leave 1.8 million workers excluded from key protections’.
His summary is spot on. With such a harsh imbalance of power currently in favour of the employer, the idea of employee’s freedom under such contracts becomes an illusion. Karl Marx once wrote: ‘Do not be deluded by the abstract word Freedom. Whose freedom? Not the freedom of one individual in relation to another, but freedom of Capital to crush the worker’. His philosophy rings truer today than ever.