Drive Out Zero-Hours Contracts

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FIGURES released last Wednesday purport to show the UK unemployment rate for the three months to September fell to 7.4% from 7.6% – a drop of 99,000 to 2.39 million out of work, the lowest since May 2009.

These numbers are for ‘anyone in paid employment’ – what they leave out is how many of these jobs are part-time, how many rely on zero-hours contracts or how many people (mainly youth) have been slung off jobseekers allowance for up to three years under the new draconian rules imposed by the government and have simply dropped off the register.

It is widely acknowledged that the total number of people forced to work zero-hours contracts is around the one million mark, while 1.47 million, a record number, are working part-time because they are unable to find full-time work.

The figure for the number who have dropped out of the records completely and exist only through the support of friends and family is impossible to quantify but is believed to be large and growing all the time.

What puts these employment statistics into perspective are the figures relating to pay for the same period.

These show that the country’s total pay (including bonuses) increased by just 0.9% in real terms; with inflation running at 2.2% this represents a pay cut for workers of 1.3%.

The pay of public sector workers actually fell by 0.3% – a pay cut of 2.5%.

This is the biggest fall in wages since 1870.

This is the reality of bankrupt British capitalism, a part-time, low-wage economy where workers are forced to take jobs on zero-hours contracts and can be ‘sent home’ any time the boss decides, with no rights to holidays, sick pay or pension rights.

Even the leaders of the main unions were moved to dismiss these figures as masking the true picture of misery facing the working class.

The exception to this condemnation was the leader of the TUC, Francis O’Grady.

She welcomed these figures saying: ‘These are undoubtedly positive figures, but we should not forget how far we still have to go to restore pre-crash living standards through better pay and jobs.’

She was equally positive the next day when welcoming the announcement by business secretary, Vince Cable, that he has ruled out a complete ban on zero-hours contracts, saying they offered employers ‘welcome flexibility’ and that they ‘have a place in the labour market’ even though there has been evidence of abuse of rights.

O’Grady responded to this, saying: ‘Through the consultation, the TUC and unions will propose tougher action in order to tackle abuse of zero-hours contracts, which can leave people not knowing how much they’ll be earning from one week to the next.’

In other words, the TUC agree with Cable that zero-hours contracts have a place in the labour market; they will not demand that they are outlawed, and only plead that bosses stop ‘abusing’ them.

The existence of zero-hours contracts, part-time work that pays so little that workers and their families are forced to rely on benefits in order to scrape by, is a monumental abuse of the working class that O’Grady is happy to accept.

What she positively won’t accept is the overwhelming vote by delegates to the TUC annual congress two years ago for the TUC leaders to actively consider calling a general strike.

The TUC’s avoidance of any struggle against the government has led O’Grady to lining up with them in making the working class pay for the crisis brought on by the bankers.

Those union leaders who have denounced these figures must repudiate O’Grady and demand her removal as general secretary of the TUC.

If they refuse, they themselves must be removed and replaced with a leadership that will call a general strike to bring down this government and go forward to a workers government and a socialist planned economy where full employment and decent wages are guaranteed.