Trade unions must fight zero hours contracts

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THE news that over one million workers now have ‘zero hours contracts’ and work only when their employer wants them, have no holidays or holiday pay and no pension rights, and are often required to relocate at their employer’s demand has shocked the trade union movement.

The meaning of this is that as British capitalism disintegrates because of the depth of the world crisis of the capitalist system, the bosses have grasped it can only be rebuilt by the methods of super-exploitation – 19th century methods that the trade unions thought were gone forever, and could only be seen in museums.

In fact, these methods can now be seen operating in all parts of the UK as the ‘zero hours contract policy’.

The bosses started with youth who were desperate for any kind of work, have continued with the elderly who have to pay their bedroom and other taxes, and are now operating in the homecare sector where councils ‘buy blocks of hours’ and then employ zero hours workers to cut all their costs.

This is a system that the bosses want to expand to the working class as a whole, since it will put an end to the trade unions.

It won’t be too long before bosses find formulas for getting rid of the various ‘truck acts’ so that workers, instead of being paid wages, can be paid at company stores in foodstuffs!

A survey of 1,000 employers by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has indicated 3-4% of the whole workforce were currently on zero hours contracts. Of these, some 14% could not earn a basic standard of living, while 16% said their employer often fails to provide them with sufficient hours each week.

While it is no surprise that feudal relics such as Buckingham Palace use zero hours contracts, the news that has emerged that staff at the established retailer Sports Direct and a number of major London councils were among those employed on such terms has been a shock to the trade unions.

Colin Angel from the UK Homecare Association has confirmed that many zero hours contracts were a response to the way that local authorities commissioned homecare services. Councils buy 70-odd per cent of all hours of homecare and use their purchase to retain a flexible workforce whose hours can change over a month.

The TUC said yesterday ‘300,000 workers in the care sector alone are employed on these insecure terms and conditions and that is before you factor in sectors like higher education, retail, legal services and journalism.

‘From Buckingham Palace to Sports Direct zero hours contracts are cropping up everywhere and the government’s oft-mentioned review must lead to proper regulation to prevent their continued misuse.’

As usual, the TUC pleads with the government and takes no action!

Dave Prentis, general secretary of the Unison union, said: ‘The vast majority of workers are only on these contracts because they have no choice. They may give flexibility to a few, but the balance of power favours the employers and makes it hard for workers to complain.’

He also refuses to make a call to action, and blames the workers for not complaining enough.

Understandably Alexander Ehmann, Head of Regulatory Policy at the Institute of Directors says the opposite. ‘Calls to ban Zero Hours Contracts are deeply misguided and any such action would have extremely damaging results. . .

‘Taking on a full-time member of staff remains a risky and potentially expensive option for any company emerging from the downturn.

‘Zero Hours Contracts can be a vital tool in our economic recovery, giving flexibility to both employer and worker whilst also guaranteeing basic employment rights.’ The IoD has rediscovered from the past an ideal way for knifing trade unions and undoing the working class.

There is only one solution to this crisis. The TUC must be made to call a general strike to bring down the coalition and bring in a workers government that will illegalise zero hours contracts as well as expropriating the bosses and bringing in socialism.