Timmy elswhere

At the ASI.

If zero hours contracts are so terrible then why are all newspaper comment pages written using them?

44 thoughts on “Timmy elswhere”

  1. Perhaps zero-hours contracts are odious to the commentariat because the commentariat are all employed on zero-hours contracts?

  2. Strange how little confidence some people have in their own abilities.
    We in the self employed sector cope with similar uncertainties without any problem. But, with all respect to our genial host, a lot of us are doing things that folks really appreciate being done. And sorry, you can’t say that about writing comment pieces for the Graun. WGAF?
    As for the wider issue, as far as I can see this is just the difference between those of us willing to go out & hustle for work & those who expect others to find it for them. Seems there’s an oversupply of the latter. Tuff titty!

  3. The other difference is you can write a comment for the Times today and the Standard tomorrow. Zero-hours contracts for other people tend to include employer exclusivity (From what I have read).

    And that, if true, is illiberal and odious and should be banned.

  4. Because they apply to “commodity labour” rather than the middle class. It’s that Adam Smith and his commoditisation of labour again.

  5. @jamesV
    No. Banning it would be illiberal. If someone wishes to be employed on a ‘when needed’ basis it’s up to them.* I’ve certainly employed enough people on those terms. Maybe not formally, with a written contract, but if they’re not available for a job they’re well down the list for the next one. Requiring me to pay them irrespective wouldn’t produce a single job because it wouldn’t be economical to do so. The money has to come from somewhere. Not from me. I’m only a conduit between the customer & the grafter & the customer only has so much money to spend.

    *Thinking about our labourer, Jim, there. Bloody good worker. Also bloody ace guitarist. Casual work lets him combine doing what he wants to do with making the money lets him.

  6. @bis, a contract that allows the employer to insist the employee turns up at no notice, can be sent home at no notice, and while at home has to stay on notice in case the employer wants him, thus is barred from entering into any other contract of employment with another employer is so grotesquely one-sided that it should be illegal. That latter bit – the employer exclusivity.

    Sorry, but you don’t get to own someone’s time unless you are paying for it. We used to call that “slavery”. You definitely don’t get to tell people they can’t work elsewhere when you can’t give them work or compensate them (e.g. via a retainer).

  7. The problem of contractual terms which are crap is a problem of unemployment, or oversupply of labour, or the like. So then we get back to the question of why it’s government policy to flood the lower end of the labour market with people from Bongo-Bongo Land who drive down wages and conditions because anything is better than the thruppence and a free mango at lunchtime they would get in the Old Country.

    The ruling class like to procure their nannies and gardeners from Bongo Bongo Land. Is this in any way significant?

  8. “We used to call that “slavery”.
    No. Slavery is slavery. This is a voluntary agreement, by both parties.
    IanB, of course, has it above. It looks unfair because there is a surplus of labour. If there was a shortage of labour, the terms would be to the advantage of the worker. That zero hours thing cuts both ways. It would be the employer who was unsure whether he had workers for the day.

  9. interesting comment on CiF:

    I used to work at McDonalds years ago, and I suppose I had a zero hours contract. Didn’t bother me or anyone else there in the least. You knew a week or so in advance how many hours you’d get, and you were more likely to be offered more work than have them cut.

    Thing is, for businesses like retail and food, zero hours (as in not getting work) makes no sense. It’s not like working as a web designer where project demand comes and goes. The number of big macs sold at every hour of the day of each day is going to be quite regular. And I suspect that McDonalds plan ahead for holidays etc (because you’d be nuts to do anything else).

    (the irony of McDonalds is that they are one of the left’s great demons, but most cafes treat their workers far worse than McDonalds).

  10. Two things here.

    Zero hours contracts are a response to the effective banning of small-time contracting in an attempt to clamp-down on the faux contractors who used to abound.

    Moreover, the reason the government finds them to be a problem is that being on a zero hours contract entitles someone to have their earnings topped up from zero to fairly comfortable by tax credits.

  11. The Stigler>

    Can’t speak for McD’s, but a long while back I worked for an upmarket burger chain for a few weeks as a server. The employment conditions were much as described. Things went fine for the first couple of weeks, then a new assistant manager came in. A couple of weeks later, some staff were complaining about having been working double shifts every day for a fortnight, and others were complaining about having had no work whatsoever. Turned out the silly cow had been filling out the work schedule by taking the first name in the alphabetical list of staff, filling out every non-overlapping shift in the roster, then repeating with the next name down until the whole week was full.

    So, yeah, no accounting for sheer bloody incompetence.

  12. Well we used to have another name for it then – “freelance” or “agency staffing”. Both of which cost more and, agreed, the surplus of labour makes it easier to get around that higher cost by this method.

    @bis, if the zero hours does cut both ways and the employee’s commitment is not restricted to one employer (this is what I have read is standard, stated here, and no one has yet correct me so please do if I am wrong) then that’s fair enough. It’s the one-way exclusivity that looks wrong to me.

    Another potential abuse comes to mind – if someone’s been working for years effectively full-time on such an agremeent there’s no need to ever make them redundant.

    @Dave, don’t know about the UK but in Germany you aren’t treated as a contractor unless you have >1 customer.

  13. @bis, if the zero hours does cut both ways and the employee’s commitment is not restricted to one employer (this is what I have read is standard, stated here, and no one has yet correct me so please do if I am wrong)

    Reportedly, there are some zero-hour contracts with exclusivity causes.

    Another potential abuse comes to mind – if someone’s been working for years effectively full-time on such an agremeent there’s no need to ever make them redundant.

    Well, an ET could find the contract doesn’t reflect the true position. Of course that means an employer might ‘game’ the system to mitigate the risk of any adverse rulings.

  14. Bottom line, does the law treat people as responsible adults who are able to choose if zero hours contracts suit them or inadequate individuals incapable of making decisions for themselves? I prefer that the law assumes the former. Don’t like the contract, don’t like exclusivity clauses, don’t sign up. Simple.

  15. Well, an ET could find the contract doesn’t reflect the true position.

    Total found themselves in this position in France. A contractor had been with the company for years, issued with a business card with a company logo and her name on the office door also with the company logo (both of which are normal in the oil business). When they booted her, she successfully argued that she was de facto staff and entitled to a payoff. Nowadays, Total is really careful about nameplates in offices and only staff get their logos on the business cards. The contractors also use a slightly different email address with “external” in it.

  16. Bit tangential, but I’m surprised that an “exclusivity” clause in such a contract can’t be challenged in the European Court as restraint of trade or something like that. Libertarian as I am, I personally think it’s an astonishing imposition on an everyday job. I’m surprised such a thing could even be enforceable.

  17. Don’t like the contract, don’t like exclusivity clauses, don’t sign up. Simple.

    Don’t get work, stay on benefits, get called a benefits scrounger. Simple.

  18. I fail to see how an exclusivity clause can be a restraint of trade if it is signed voluntarily.

    How, UkLiberty, is it any different than any other term of employment that one doesn’t like, e.g. hours, pay, etc?

    As an employer, I offer a job on conditions I can afford. If candidates don’t like it, so be it. If the state interferes to impose conditions I can’t afford then there is no job. Simple.

  19. Have done plenty of temp jobs with zero hour contracts. One employer insisted on exclusivity, I pointed out for a few week contract that was not workable and informed them I’d be finishing that day, as you can do on temp jobs. Was in another job the next day, one without exclusivity.

    The media demonise the zero hour contracts like they are something new. First time I came across them was over 2 decades ago. They do encourage flexibility in the employee as well as the employer.
    I have heard from business contacts in recent months of a move towards more contracted out work to get around employee issues. Better for people or worse?

  20. I am entirely baffled as to why anyone would impose an exclusivitiy clause, but I have to admit that despite much “temping”, casual and freelance work I have never had a “zero hours contract” and I don’t know what the context is.

    I can understand it in a “good” job where I might be handling information that would be useful to a competitor, but then I would also expect loyalty from the employer in that situation, not least a good wage I could live on exclusively. I just can’t see how it can be imposed on a lowly shit-shoveller. Or why.

    Or is it only a middle class job thing, and the campaigners are conflating different grades of employ?

  21. DocBud, superficially there’s no difference. But look at the people and the circumstances we’re talking about. There is a scarcity of work / oversupply of labour. People without work go on benefits, become political footballs. They take zero hour contracts. There is no job security. There is no redundancy pay. There is no holiday pay. If there is no contractual obligation to accept hours offered, employers may in effect oblige employees to work the hours offered by punishing those who don’t comply with reduced or no hours. There is no guarantee of hours so it is difficult to budget, they will find it difficult to rent in the private sector (and there is a shortage of social housing) and they will find it difficult to claim in-work benefits (JSA and WTC). There is a lag of several weeks in being paid benefits for the period the employee has no work. They might receive overpayments, which they have to pay back. The risk of misreporting circumstances could lead to civil penalties. Someone might be made worse off in employment than when he’s unemployed. Sometimes there is exclusivity, so the employee can’t seek work from other employers if the first employer won’t offer work.

    As an employer, I offer a job on conditions I can afford. If candidates don’t like it, so be it. If the state interferes to impose conditions I can’t afford then there is no job. Simple.

    Perhaps some employers are more unscrupulous than you and seek to take advantage of the circumstances. In any case, what sort of society are we developing? What are we doing, where are we going and where do we want to end up? Do other countries provide more equitable solutions? Simple.

  22. Ian B,

    I am entirely baffled as to why anyone would impose an exclusivitiy clause

    Simple: you’ve always got staff available.

    It’s not just a middle-class thing. It also affects things like warehousing jobs.

    And yes, I’m all in favour of young people going freelance, standing on their own two feet, but anyone who talks about flexible labour forces and then supports exclusivity is a hypocrite.

  23. Worked for a couple of years in a cafe with zero hours. Knew in advance which days to go in. No guarantee that going in I’d have work to do, usually did – could be an hour catching up on potwashing, could be so quiet one of the waitresses was managing that. Or could be busy enough to do 12 hours with all staff run off their feet. No way the job could be viable for the employer with set hours!

  24. I’m pretty sure that an exclusivity clause in an “as and when” contract would be unenforceable, other than to the extent that it prevents you from working for direct competitors.

    The common law is very intolerant of contracts in restraint of trade.

  25. And yes, I’m all in favour of young people going freelance, standing on their own two feet, but anyone who talks about flexible labour forces and then supports exclusivity is a hypocrite.

    Agreed.

  26. Most of us have had zero hours contracts. But on mature reflection, they were zero days contracts. Off shore oil work, contract programming, etc.
    But there has to be some regulation. What next, zero minutes contracts? You’re behind the desk, but there’s no customer, so you don’t get paid?

    Incidentally (and I stand to be corrected by m’Lud Lud) I doubt if Snowden (a subbie for a subbie) could be convicted under an exclusivity clause.

    The guys I feel sorry for are the burger flippers who are told to go round the back for a couple of hours unpaid during quiet times just to save a few quid for the employer, when there is obviously no alternative however much or little exclusivity clauses apply.

  27. Aren’t we all getting a bit excited about two words. Zero & exclusivity.
    Let’s look at reality. No-one is going to be sticking to an exclusivity contract when the company concerned is providing zero paying work. The only point of an exclusivity clause would be if the employee could go & find alternative paying work elsewhere. For the contract to be viable, the employee must be able to gain a reasonable return from it, as opposed to the alternatives.
    In essence, it really doesn’t look any different from the work conditions many self-employed enjoy. They work & get paid when the work’s there & not when it isn’t. Hopefully, anyone agreeing to an exclusivity deal will ensure the exclusivity works both ways. The employer doesn’t employ outside the contracted labour pool so there’s an element of increased earnings security for the employee. Outcome’s, the worker gets periods of of long hours & good money, balanced by periods of low earnings. The sort of flexibility the self-employed provide without the hassle of all the paperwork.

    But in the end, if it’s not financially advantageous, no-one’s going to do it.

  28. Quite, bloke in spain. If I want exclusivity from someone I’d expect to pay for it. I’ve been in that position myself, someone paid me a sizable retainer for about two years so that when he wanted my services they were available. If I’m prepared to risk that someone is not available then I won’t offer them anything other than the promise of casual work if it and they are available.

    I’m not a provider of welfare, I have to be profitable. I offer conditions that enable me to turn a profit. If prospective employees don’t like what is offered then they are under no obligation to accept it. We’ve actually had to renegotiate contracts which were written to be generous in the boom years and which ceased to be profitable in the downturn. Some accepted the modified contracts but some chose redundancy. What was not an option was to maintain the original contracts and trade at a loss.

  29. bloke in france,

    The guys I feel sorry for are the burger flippers who are told to go round the back for a couple of hours unpaid during quiet times just to save a few quid for the employer

    AIUI that’s unlawful, they should be paid at least minimum wage – apparently it does happen, though.

    bloke in spain,

    Aren’t we all getting a bit excited about two words. Zero & exclusivity.

    I think the concern is really about people on or near minimum wage subject to contracts that appear exploitative, although a few people have called for banning all zero hours contracts. I can’t imagine how one could run (for example) a catering / events company without those kind of contracts. My concern is with exploitation and fairness.

  30. You don’t need to ban clauses in contracts. You just pass a bill to declare them unenforceable. Unless, as sandman suggests, they already are. And then you do what you can to make sure that workers on this kind of contract are more aware of their rights. (Actually, I suspect this is a problem more widely that HMG could tackle: the employment version of the fact that we don’t normally need new laws but better enforcement.)

    In that case, the only way an employer would be able to get any kind of exclusivity would be to ensure that it was worth the employee’s while not to flout or challenge the clause. Hey presto! we just invented retainers.

  31. Why all this concern about people on zero hours contracts not earning a lot. The people taking these kinds of jobs will typically be using them to top up their earnings.

    I look at my wife who does crafting as well as web design. She would have no problem with a 0 hour job as she can drop the others with no problem if called out.

  32. UK Lib
    “I think the concern is really about people on or near minimum wage subject to contracts that appear exploitative, .. My concern is with exploitation and fairness.”

    But fairness to who? Seems to me, down at the minimum wage level, there’s some doubt as to whether employing the individual’s worthwhile. So why is the employer expected to take all the risk? Who exploits who?

  33. bloke in spain,
    Fairness to the parties to the contract. I don’t understand what you mean by “So why is the employer expected to take all the risk?” – what risk?

    Some employers appear to be exploiting some workers. You’ve presumably read this thread at least; some employers appear to expect exclusivity and/or penalise workers with reduced or no hours if workers don’t accept hours offered etc etc.

  34. For me, it comes down to this; as a libertarian, from a strict libertarian POV, any contract offered and accepted is valid. But let’s say we live in Libertopia, and there is great competition for some job I am offering (perhaps due to labour oversupply when the OB-Libs throw open the borders) and so I decide to give the job to the prettiest girl, on condition she gives me a BJ whenever I want one.

    My problem here is that I don’t feel that that would be “right”, because I was brought up proper by my nice parents and I’d be thinking about mum spinning in her grave. I have this idea that you can only have a liberal/libertarian society if people actually have some kind of moral sense to be, um, morally liberal, which basically means spending your time trying to be fair and decent with other people, so long as they are with you, which would mean not applying every bit of leverage you have, just because you have it.

    Which might mean not always getting optimal economic efficiency, but it does mean you’re not a total arse, which is some kind of a public good, I think.

  35. The syndico-anarchist tendency of libertarianism seems to assume that everyone is a gentleman (or gentle woman), of reasonable behaviour, even to the point of foregoing some optimum of their own economic efficiency, in the name of chivalric behaviour, or being a good sport.

    Unfortunately the human species contains far too many arseholes for this to work.

  36. @UK lib

    “bloke in spain,
    Fairness to the parties to the contract. I don’t understand what you mean by “So why is the employer expected to take all the risk?” – what risk?”

    Mmm… Now why do I get the feeling you’ve never been an employer?

    It works like this. Wage costs get paid a long time before the reward the wages were for gets realised by the employer. So every time one employs someone to do a job one’s taking a risk. The risk that one won’t recover the labour cost. That’s essentially the difference between self employment & working for someone else. Second case, you get paid whatever. Not your risk.
    These ‘zero hours’ contracts have the benefit to the employer, he’s not having to risk forking out wages when there actually isn’t any work to do. Employee accepts the risk.

  37. I don’t believe everyone’s nice, but I think everyone agreeing to be reasonably nice is a precondition for any sort of liberal society. Which is broadly how things are, or were anyway, in the Western world, with various mechanisms of social sanction to keep the smattering of true arseholes in check.

    Which is why multiculti is such a dangerous policy, because you’re (a) importing large numbers of people from more primitive ingroup-outgroup cultures and (b) even worse encouraging a feeling of ingroup-outgroup and general grievance within them.

  38. @ UK Lib
    Reading through my own comment, I realise I just don’t share your adversarial view of employer/employee relations. To me they’re both on the same team. The point is to have a relationship, makes money, that both benefit from.
    Said this before. As an employer, I worked for my employees. They’re where the money gets made, pays for my extravagant lifestyle. I don’t do it.

  39. bloke in spain, I don’t have an adversarial view of employer/employee or employer/worker relations. I’m certain I have been quite clear that I’m talking about some employers, some workers, some contracts – I haven’t suggested that all employers or all zero hour contracts are bad, indeed I did say I couldn’t imagine how to run a catering or events company without such contracts.

    I’m glad you think employers and workers are on the same team – I completely agree. Unfortunately it appears that some other employers do not agree (they might be evil, or their own pressures might incline them away from fairness to workers). I have had some bad managers and employers and some good managers and employers.

    ISTM the complaints from workers on zero hour contracts aren’t about the contracts per se (with the exception of exclusivity clauses) but rather their beliefs they are being treated unfairly (and how their circumstances interact with the benefits system). If what they describe is true, then they are being treated unfairly, and I don’t want people to be treated unfairly. If for example there is exclusivity in the contract or in effect (e.g. penalising the worker for not accepting hours) than I would suggest the worker is not being treated fairly and it would be better for the employer to just call another worker in the pool instead of enforcing exclusivity. Similarly if it is true that some employers are crap at organising workers such that some workers get too many hours and other workers too few, and those workers are forbidden from mitigating the situation by organising the hours among themselves, then I would suggest that is unfair and it would be better for the employer to improve their organisation and/or allow the workers to organise their hours.

    Not all employers, not all contracts – some.

  40. In small companies employers and workers *have* to be on the same team. UKL mentions that *some* employers don’t see things that way, but overlooks “Red Robbo”, Scargill, Bob Crowe, Serwotka etc.

  41. UK Lib
    ” Unfortunately it appears that some other employers do not agree (they might be evil, or their own pressures might incline them away from fairness to workers). I have had some bad managers and employers and some good managers and employers.”
    Strange how the issue is so readily looked from this direction. Yet the vast majority of employers treat their staff honourably & with consideration. Wish the reverse could be said. . The reverse of this zero hours thing is a bunch of people sitting around doing B all because there’s no work to be done. But expecting to be paid because that’s what their contract says. Who mentions exploitation, then?

  42. @ ukliberty
    Well, if employers and workers want to be on the same team, then those who treat the employer (and, frequently, freedom of association) as the enemy are relevant.
    Sure, I agree that *some* unscrupulous employers are exploiting the unemployment situation and I hope that they will get their comeuppance when their employees get a choice but the decent majority plus any who take a long-term view want their employees to *want* to work for them.

  43. I do not dispute that there are bad workers and good employers, or that we might be better off had the UK’s employers and unions enjoyed a more collaborative relationship. I’m certain I have made comments along those lines in other threads – it didn’t seem necessary (or relevant) here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *