Zero hours contracts have been bounding along in this week’s news with a series of stories covering the alleged exploitation of workers by high profile Companies such as Amazon. But what would the real impact be for business and workers themselves if there was no legal provision for what is today’s version of a casual contract?
By their very nature, businesses that have an operational or service-providing side to them have to manage and address variations in sales or workload, depending upon any one of a number of different influences that can dictate how busy or quiet they might be. These could be as simple and regular as seasonality, like the run up to Christmas or perhaps the unexpected changes in customer shopping habits that some retailers and travel companies have experienced as a result of unpredictable factors such the recent hot weather.
As customers in any respect when we are out and about, we will rarely even begin to consider the processes behind the scenes which ensure there are an appropriate number of staff on hand to serve us when we need them, or how things would actually run if Businesses such as hotels, shops and pubs were not able to call upon flexible staff to fill gaps caused by absence or are ready to drop what they are doing – and get paid – for covering those extra hours when more hands are required.
Many extra shifts will of course be covered by the additional hours of existing staff. But the variation in operational need can be far more significant than that which can either sensibly or legally be met by ‘regular’ staff through overtime alone, and businesses must have the ability to cover such eventualities without employing and paying staff for hours that they simply aren’t needed.
Naturally, there are those opposed to the idea that employees should have anything less than ‘proper’ contracts of employment and that rubbishing the ability of firms to engage what are essentially casual staff will force companies to provide would-be employees with much more favourable terms.
But whilst this may sound like a call to arms and the raleighing cry of voices who care about the people who often need these jobs, such impractical views manifested in laws which would prevent use of Zero Hours Contracts or their equivalent would leave many unemployed people without the opportunity to work. They certainly wouldn’t get the chance to demonstrate what an asset they could be to a potential employer, and that employer could itself become even less sustainable because of the costs associated with taking on staff to deal with unpredictable growth when at times they have to behave as little more than a charity to do so.
Sadly, media portrayals of the unemployed and the dependency culture have left many of us with the idea that every person without a job or income is the same as the next and that each of them is basically looking for a free ride at everyone else’s expense.
Whilst this may be the case for some, the reality for many more couldn’t be more different. They see the value of having work and fully appreciate the opportunities that might follow. For others, having an arrangement where they don’t have fixed hours but go in to work at times which are mutually convenient with an employer is actually a positive lifestyle choice and one which many – for instance semi-retired people – may well be very pleased to embrace.
The harsh reality of all this is that like so many other areas of our over-legislated and bureaucratic governed lives, ill-considered solutions or changes brought into being simply because of media tittle-tattle or quixotic rhetoric will cause more harm than than it ever will good for all of the people and businesses who actually need practical and thought-through options most when it comes to the employer-employee relationship.
There will always be a small percentage of businesses that exploit people in every way that they can, just as there will be work-shy people who will manipulate the system to work best for them wherever it will let them. However, these are relatively few in number even if they make it into the press, and it is simply wrong that opportunities are closed down for the many businesses and workers who need them just because of the self-serving actions of a few.
Responsible companies should be able to employ casual staff without recourse to temporary staffing agencies that cannot offer the same level of continuity as staff who have an ongoing relationship with the business, and the unemployed should be able to take up casual work and make a contribution whilst they work without fear of losing benefits or having a bureaucratic struggle to justify why – especially when it might just be the step that gets them into full time work and helps the sustainable growth of British businesses.
Sustainable business growth requires access to a casual workforce, just as many of the unemployed benefit from access to casual jobs. The Government has the ability and power to deal with this unnecessarily complex issue fairly and imaginatively to the benefit of all concerned.
But do they really want to?
image thanks to itv.com