While it is welcome news that employment is on the rise, the reality is that more and more people are being forced to accept zero hours contracts.
Some people may welcome the opportunity to have flexible working lives. However, for many people it means a life of instability and insecurity.
Zero-hours contracts are contracts of employment which do not specify any number of hours the employee will be required to work.
They’re increasingly common for shop workers, carers and people working in the manufacturing industry. The contract says instead of working a specific number of hours per week, you must be ready to work whenever you are asked.
LeicesterShire Citizens’ Advice Bureau (CAB) is hearing more and more about the problems people face when they’re forced onto zero-hours contracts. In Melton we’ve heard from people who’ve had their hours of work reduced to zero for several weeks when their employer heard that they had gone for a job interview.
We know of people with children and a mortgage who can’t budget from week-to-week as they do not know how many hours they will be working. And we know of people who dare not question their conditions of employment, as they fear that this will risk their chance of getting work.
Staff on zero hours contracts may also find it hard to access financial support for working people, like housing benefit and council tax reduction, as their fluctuating income makes it almost impossible to accurately estimate their annual income. This can lead to a stressful cycle of over and under-payments.
We also know jobseekers are being threatened with benefits sanctions if they don’t take up zero hours contracts.
Forcing people to accept a role which offers little or no guarantee of an income could leave jobseekers facing the daunting choice between a tough financial sanction and the Russian roulette of a zero-hour contract. Zero hours can mean zero prospects and zero income. Getting people into stable employment is the surest way of reducing the cost of out-of-work support. Financial support needs to be paired with help to develop skills and increase the likelihood of finding work in the long term.
As part of the Government’s review of zero-hour contracts, ministers have a responsibility to tighten the rules so workers have decent rights and a guarantee of a minimum income.
l If you’re having problems at work call LeicesterShire CAB on 0844 417 1025 (0300 3301025 from mobiles) or find details of the Melton office at www.leicscab.org.uk. More information is available at www.adviceguide.org.uk