The scale of the use of super-exploitative zero-hours contracts has been revealed. A recent Unite the Union survey showed that 5.5 million workers – more than 10 times the government’s estimate – were forced to sign up to low wage, precarious working conditions in 2013. These figures alone only include workers who are on contracts which guarantee absolutely no hours. In reality the amount of mainly young workers who are underemployed exceeds 1 million.
From being on a zero hour contract myself, I know the argument spewed out by bosses – “they promote flexibility” and “give employees total control” are nonsense. The reality for young people on these contracts is a constant feeling of insecurity, not knowing if you’ll earn enough to pay rent, buy food or afford heating bills. Other weeks it is the opposite, where you will be called in to work a shift at a moment’s notice, occasionally working 50 to 60 hour weeks around busy periods. For many young workers, to refuse or complain about these conditions is not an option. Those who kick up a fuss are labelled as unreliable by management and quickly find themselves with only a handful of hours every week, struggling to get by.
Young workers can challenge low pay, attacks on rights such as holiday pay and job insecurity by joining a union. The Socialist Party and Socialist Youth are targeting companies using zero-hour contracts with pickets and protests over the summer and will be assisting workers to join a union and fight for decent conditions and wages. We will also be shaming the politicians in Stormont for not legislating to rid this super-exploitative practice.