Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Little Satisfaction from Zero Hours

Zero hour contracts are back in the news today (the picture above - not my best look! - is from my interview about them on BBC News).  The reporting started earlier in New Zealand where the contracts have been abolished, and the continued, but for rather different reasons, here in the UK where the number of employees working on them has increased 15% over the last year.

The Office for National Statistics suggests this number is now 800,000 people, or 2.5% of the working population.  However their suggestion is growth may not have been so high as these figures suggest because the contracts are now better known and the response may just be a result of people tuning into the term.

That's partly supported by Glassdoor's findings that 20% of unemployed people don't understand what the contracts are about (research completed before the ONS figures).  However Glassdoor also found that 25% of unemployed people have been offered a ZH contract and that about half have taken the offer.  That suggests a substantially higher number of people will be on ZH contracts and that the result of not understanding the term is that the ONS is understating not overstating the growth figures.

That matters because as I've posted previously, most of the people who have taken on ZH contracts feel they have had to do so because they needed the money or for other requirements.  A much smaller proportion of people value the flexibility they provide.  This contrasts with CIPD findings but Glassdoor has got real vs just survey data on its side ie if you look through Glassdoor comments on ZH contracts it's quite clear that people with them are no where near as satisfied with their employment as those on traditional full or part time contracts are.

These examples were published in the Daily Mail today:
  • "Never worked longer than a 4 hour shift because they didn't want to have to give me a break."
  • "The 0 hour contract is bad because you can end up not getting work for days, or even weeks."
  • A part-time shop worker described the contracts as a "nightmare", saying staff wanted four-hour contracts to be doubled.

If you think these comments are biased just check the Twitter stream for a search on zero hour contracts (ignore the tweets from New Zealand).

We can debate the pros and cons of ZHCs but the bigger issue for employers at least is the way they're perceived so negatively, whether this is fair or not.  Whilst this is the case they're unlikely to play a role in improving employment flexibility and instead are more likely to be contributing to a continuation of the UK's low-commitment, low-productivity economy.

For more on this debate, here are some of my comments in the Guardian:
“The most common reason that unemployed people turn down zero-hours contracts is the need for a guaranteed level of income to make this a viable alternative to receiving unemployment benefit. These contracts favour the employers over the employees. 
With 38% of these contracts held by 16- to 24-year-olds, it means there is now a significant proportion of the young workforce without guaranteed incomes.
This pay-as-you-go employment causes issues and judging by the comments on Glassdoor, this is not a preferred choice of employment in the long term.”

And there's more on the research in these blog posts too:

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Picture credit: @Mid247