Zero hour contracts, an innovation of sorts for young people

Eric Garland Generational Conflict 1 Comment

I recently happened by a blog from the United Kingdom that describes a “novel” work arrangement for low-wage jobs – the “zero hour contracts” through which employers may employ temporary laborers with the minimum protections on both sides. Here is the editorialized version:


Thousands of graduates are complaining they are being ripped off by so-called ‘zero-hours’ contracts, where employers expect them to be available for shifts – but have no obligation to give them any work at all.

The contracts have become especially common in low-paid jobs the retail and hospitality industries, where many graduates have found themselves working as they struggle to secure a well-paid graduate role where their degree is valued. 

And fears are growing that Britain is developing a generation of “precarious” young workers, doing part-time or casual work because they can’t find permanent, full-time work. In these roles, they often find themselves with low pay, few rights, little protection – and no stability.

Here is a less editorialized version from Business Link UK under “the best way to take on extra staff

Zero-hours contracts allow you to have people on-call to work whenever necessary and mutually convenient. Generally, you are not obliged to offer work, nor is there a responsibility for the worker to accept any work. Look at the terms of any zero-hours contract carefully as it may affect the employment status of the worker and your responsibility towards them.

Zero hour contracts This arrangement reminded me of the labor scandal that popped around the Queen’s Jubilee earlier this summer, whereby it was discovered that poor young workers were bussed in during the middle of the night to work for free, with the promise of getting some hourly labor for the next big show, the Olympics.

Close Protection UK confirmed that it was using up to 30 unpaid staff and 50 apprentices, who were paid £2.80 an hour, for the three-day event in London. A spokesman said the unpaid work was a trial for paid roles at the Olympics, which it had also won a contract to staff. Unpaid staff were expected to work two days out of the three-day holiday.

The firm said it had spent considerable resources on training and equipment that stewards could keep and that the experience was voluntary and did not affect jobseekers keeping their benefits.

Were you working for free for days in the rain with no shelter and minimal access to bathrooms or food? Hey, you got the experience – and we’re not even going to make you pay for it! You kids oughtta be happy!

Zero hour contracts – a subtle labor negotiation

This is all part of the Politics of Negotiating People Down. Our system promises, through university brochures, political rhetoric and the fortunes of older generations, that if you follow the system laid out for you, things will work out. The reality, becoming more stark every year, is of course that it won’t quite happen that way. Unlike prior generations, you will be paying much higher tuition and fees. You will need quite a few unpaid internships, you know, to get your foot in the door. Perhaps you will need a Masters degree, or maybe a few, to get a job with some proper compensation and respect. But not a pension; those days are gone. You don’t mind, do you?

You’ve been negotiated down from the promise of the system.

I suspect most of the negotiation happens with young people because they have the least capital and can affect the least change if they do become angry. Also, they are more credulous about the possibility of such mutations eventually working out, because they have more time to recover than older citizens. On the other hand, of course, they are the most likely to revolt, intellectually or physically.

Comments 1

  1. Absolutely disgusting. Let the revolt begin. When these kids wise up and say fuck you we aren’t going to your shitty for profit schools and paying more than we would for a normal state university degree to further enrich Goldman Sachs and bloody hell we just aren’t going to ANY of your overpriced higher learning institutions actually when we are expected to work for nothing or free and service onerous student loan debt….the game is up my friend…

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