Zero-Hours Workers Earn £300 A Week Less!

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Young Socialists marchers arrive at the TUC Congress in Liverpool demanding decent well-paid jobs for youth
Young Socialists marchers arrive at the TUC Congress in Liverpool demanding decent well-paid jobs for youth

ZERO-HOURS workers earn nearly £300 a week less, on average, than permanent employees, according to a new report published on Monday to mark the beginning of the TUC’s Decent Jobs Week.

The Decent Jobs Deficit: The Human Cost of Zero-Hours Working and Casual Labour shows that average weekly earnings for zero-hours workers are just £188, compared to £479 for permanent workers.

The research also reveals that zero-hours workers are five times more likely not to qualify for statutory sick pay than permanent workers as a result of their lower level of take home pay.

Two-fifths (39 per cent) of zero-hours workers earn less than £111 a week – the qualifying threshold for statutory sick pay – compared to one in twelve (8 per cent) permanent employees.

The TUC says the findings highlight the impact that the growth in precarious labour is having on workers’ pay and rights at work, and warns that this is a sign of the growing two-tier workforce.

On Monday, the TUC launched its Decent Jobs Week campaign to draw attention to the millions of people in the UK who are trapped in low-paid and insecure work.

They include the more than 1.4m zero-hours contracts in use, as well as agency and other casual workers who – due to the temporary nature of their employment – often lose out on basic rights at work.

The Decent Jobs Deficit also reveals that:

• Just a quarter of zero-hours workers work a full-time week. Only one in four (23 per cent) zero-hours workers work over 35 hours a week, compared to two-thirds (60 per cent) of other employees.

• One in three zero-hours workers report having no regular amount of income. Zero-hours contract workers were nearly five times as likely to have differing amounts of weekly pay compared to staff with other kinds of work arrangements.

• Women on zero-hours contracts earn less than men. Women on zero-hours contracts earn £32 a week less, on average, than men employed on the same kind of contracts.

Commenting on the report, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: ‘The growth of zero-hours contracts, along with other forms of precarious employment, is one of the main reasons why working people have seen their living standards worsen significantly in recent years.

‘It is shocking that so many workers employed on these kind of contracts are on poverty pay and miss out on things that most of us take for granted like sick pay.

‘While it is good to see employment is rising, if the UK doesn’t create more well-paid jobs with regular hours we will continue to have a two-tier workforce where many people are stuck in working poverty.

‘The increase in casual labour also helps explain why income tax revenues are falling which is not only bad for our public finances but for society too. The lack of regular hours and income makes it difficult for households to pay bills and take on financial commitments such as rents and mortgages.’

The report notes: ‘Official statistics indicate that temporary and casual employment grew steadily during and in the aftermath of the recession of 2008/09.

‘The precarious nature of employment in the UK labour market is epitomised by the growing use of zero-hours contracts.’

It adds: ‘According to the ONS survey of businesses, in January-February 2014, around 13 per cent of all employers had some zero-hours contract workers, but their use was more common among larger employers. Forty-seven per cent of employers with at least 250 employees made some use of zero-hours contracts, compared to 12 per cent of those with fewer than 20 employees.

‘Zero-hours contracts tend to be concentrated in those industries which have traditionally been associated with low pay and with more casual working practices, including accommodation and food services where 45 per cent of employers made at least some use of zero-hours contracts. Over a quarter of individuals on zero-hours contracts worked in accommodation and food services (26 per cent), another quarter in administration and support services (25 per cent), and 10 per cent in the wholesale and retail sector.6

‘However, one of the most striking developments in recent years has been the rapid expansion in the use of zero-hours contracts in the public sector and outsourced public services. The CIPD survey found that public sector and voluntary sector employers were amongst those most likely to use zero-hours contract workers, with 35 per cent of education and 27 per cent of healthcare employers using these working arrangements.’

‘The government’s austerity measures and cuts to public spending have been the main reasons behind the increase in precarious employment in public services . . .

‘In April 2013, the Financial Times reported that there were almost 100,000 zero-hours contracts in use in NHS hospitals, an increase of 24 per cent over two years.

‘The use of such contracts is no longer limited to occupations associated with low pay and insecurity, such as cleaning. It is also hitting new areas, such as cardiac services, physiotherapy, radiography and hearing services.’

A section of the report on youth and casualisation says: ‘Over the last decade there has been a huge rise in the proportion of under-25s living below the breadline as they struggle to cope with falling incomes, poor prospects and the increased cost of housing and food.

‘The increase in poverty amongst younger workers has resulted from upheavals in the labour market, including the vast expansion in the use of zero-hours, part-time work and lowpaid self-employment.

‘Analysis of the LFS confirms that younger workers aged under 30 are disproportionately employed in temporary and insecure employment. In 2014, a majority of all zero-hours contract workers were aged under 30 – an increase of 11 per cent when compared with figures for 2008.

‘Whilst those aged under 30 represent just one in four of the overall working population in 2014, they account for 44 per cent of all individual workers employed in temporary work, and 37 per cent of all agency workers.

‘Employers argue that agency working and zero-hours contracts offer young workers welcome job experience and a valuable stepping stone into more permanent employment.

‘However, research commissioned by the UK Commission for Education and Skills suggests temporary working is not always a positive choice for workers.

‘For young workers in particular, working on a flexible contract was often the only available option. Analysis of the LFS also suggests that younger workers are increasingly trapped in insecure work, when they would prefer permanent, secure employment which is more likely to provide access to training and enhanced workplace benefits.

‘It is unsurprising that the majority of zero-hours contract workers aged 16-19 are not looking for permanent work because they fit their jobs around school or university courses. However, 50 per cent of zero-hours contract workers aged 20-24, and 58 per cent of those aged 25 to 29, said they were only doing temporary work because they could not find a permanent job.

‘Similarly, 81 per cent of temporary agency workers aged 20-24 and 64 per cent of those aged 25-29 reported they were in temporary work because they could not find a permanent job.’

The Decent Jobs Deficit: The Human Cost of Zero-Hours Working and Casual Labour makes the following key recommendations:

• All workers should have better access to permanent, secure employment with regular hours guaranteed.

• Where individuals work regular hours, their employer should be legally required to issue them with a written contract which guarantees them their normal working hours on an ongoing basis.

• Those working irregular hours should be paid an allowance on top of their normal pay to reward the flexibility they offer their employers.

• All agency workers should have the same rights to equal pay as permanent staff.

• Increased priority should be given to the enforcement of rights for vulnerable workers, including ensuring that care workers receive at least the national minimum wage during travel time between client appointments.

• All workers, regardless of their employment status, must be given the same basic entitlements at work such as redundancy pay and the right to return to work after maternity or paternity leave.

The TUC does not call for the scrapping of zero-hours contracts. It is to the shame of the reformist trade union leaders that zero hours contracts have been allowed in the first place.

What is required is a general strike to bring down the coalition and go forwards to a workers government and socialism.

Only this will provide decent jobs, pay and services for all. Leaders who refuse to fight for this must be replaced by those who will.