Accept Zero Hours Or No Benefits!

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Young Socialists lobby of last September’s TUC Congress in Brighton demanding no zero-hours contracts
Young Socialists lobby of last September’s TUC Congress in Brighton demanding no zero-hours contracts

UNEMPLOYED workers are to be thrown off benefits if they refuse to go on slave labour zero-hours contracts, the government announced yesterday.

Employment Minister Esther McVey outlined the change in a letter to Labour MP Sheila Gilmore, in which she wrote that under the new system JobCentre ‘coaches’ would be empowered to ‘mandate (claimants) to zero-hours contracts’.

Until now, people on Jobseeker’s Allowance could refuse to accept such contracts without facing penalties. But a spokesman from the Department for Work and Pensions confirmed the change yesterday, adding that claimants would not be required to sign up to an ‘exclusive’ zero-hours contract, but could actually sign up to any number at once!

Last week, trade unions called for action against zero-hours contracts after an Office for National Statistics study showed 1.4 million workers on them, although Unite estimated that the real number could in fact be five million.

In a statement yesterday, Public and Commercial Services union general secretary Mark Serwotka said: ‘This is a new kind of cruelty from a government that has done more to demonise and punish unemployed people than any other.

‘Ministers have presided over a massive increase in these exploitative contracts at the same time as millions more people are stuck in low-paid self-employed, temporary or part-time work.’

Martin Smith, GMB National Organiser, told News Line: We’ve had members complaining about this for some weeks now. We first heard reports of it five or six weeks ago, where our members were being forced to take zero-hours contracts or lose their benefits.

‘Zero-hours contracts are almost entirely imposed in non-union workplaces – the only way they will be removed is through union organisation.’

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: ‘An increasing number of unemployed people are being penalised for breaking rules unintentionally and are facing life with no benefits for months as a result.

‘We’ve already seen cases of people losing benefits because they missed a meeting to go to the funeral of a close relative – under these proposals, jobseekers are likely to be penalised for refusing a shift because they have a job interview.

‘With new plans under the “Help to Work” scheme potentially meaning jobseekers will have to undertake community work alongside convicted offenders, the government is punishing people for being unemployed when they are the real victims here.’

Tim Nichols of the Child Poverty Action Group, told News Line: ‘The growth in zero-hours contracts is part of the reason why two-thirds of children below the poverty line are in homes with work.

‘Mandating people into zero-hours contracts risks locking families into working poverty and preventing them seeking the hours and security of work they need to give their families a decent standard of living.’

• Members of the University and College Union (UCU) across the UK are holding a day of action today to draw attention to the vast numbers of staff employed on zero-hours or other temporary contracts in universities and colleges.

The UCU says that 30% of teaching staff are on zero-hours or similar contracts in FE colleges and 17% in universities, while among researchers it’s a massive 67%!

UCU says the exploitation of staff is damaging for education with insecure staff unable to build up long-term relationships with their students, denied office and other facilities and constantly looking for the next contract.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: ‘Students in colleges and universities would be horrified if they knew that many of those who teach them have little or no employment rights, no job security and that most of our groundbreaking research staff are without permanent contracts.’