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Zero hours shows how capitalism works for the 1%

Job anyone? Yes? Good! Wait by the door with your cap in you hand and we’ll call you when we need you. If we call you we’ll pay you. Maybe. A bit. Not much though, times are hard. We’re all in it together.

Better than being on benefits, isn’t it. This way we’re not obliged to give you a cent, a penny, a dime. And we don’t have to worry about all that expensive red tape, bureaucracy. Things like sick pay, holiday pay.

Buckingham Palace, the National Trust, and the Tate Galleries use the same zero hours approach to employment as Mike Ashley billionaire owner of Sports Direct and Newcastle United.  

Some 90% – 20,000 of the people employed by Sports Direct – are on these contracts. The remainder are in line for big bonuses, if they keep their noses clean and don’t upset the boss. But if you DO upset the boss and get sacked there’s always the Employment Tribunal. Or at least there was. Now they’ve changed the rules so you have to pay a fat fee to even think about lodging an appeal. Good people in the Coalition.

The percentage of employers in the UK with more than 100 staff offering zero-hours contracts jumped from 11% to 23% between 2004 and 2011. They include most workers in the care industry, and a high proportion working for hotel, catering and leisure companies. No customers means no shifts, no hours and no pay.

Austerity programmes cutting spending in the public sector meant that NHS trusts began to issue zero-hours contracts to professional staff and make them fight it out for shifts. Radiologists, psychiatrists and heart specialists found themselves in staff "banks" that trusts could draw on when demand peaked.

This trend is part of a universal, worldwide downward pressure on jobs and real incomes resulting from the 2007-8 crash. You can see it behind the news that the number of jobless in the eurozone fell for the first time in more than two years in June, but the unemployment rate stayed at a record 12.1%. 

The total number of unemployed people in the wider EU fell by 32,000 to 26.42 million. But just like in the United States, part-time, and no-time jobs are increasing.

Even so, the youth unemployment rate is now at 58.7% in Greece and 56.1% in Spain.

The US Federal Reserve has just announced that it will continue adding to the $2 trillion dollars of credit it has pumped into the economy since the crash. Jobs are increasing by 200,000 a month as a result yet are failing to close the gap of 8.7 million lost as a result of the crash.

But, as Daniel Alpert, former merchant and investment banker, turned financial consultant points out, over 69% of the jobs created in April-June 2013 and over 57% of all the jobs created in the first half of 2013 were in the three lowest wage sub-sectors of the economy.

About half of the jobs created during the first half of 2013, and a large majority of the jobs created in April-June, appear to have been part-time jobs that offer employees as little as one hour of work per week, and up to 35 hours of work.

And the number of people saying they are working part time because they can’t find full time work crept back up to 8.2 million – double pre-recession levels.

Alpert now specialises in bankruptcy and restructuring – “thinking outside the box” to provide “novel and workable solutions to unique financial challenges”. He’s got a new book out next month: The Age of Oversupply: Overcoming the Greatest Challenge to the Global Economy.

Just can’t wait to find out what new ideas he has for the huge numbers of people made surplus to requirements by the crisis of capitalist production.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor
1 August 2013

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Your Say


Chris Hall says:

I really can't understand how these sorts of contracts managed to slip into the lexicon of British employment. How come the trade unions haven't been raising merry hell with this as it's really the same as the 'lump'.


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