I see Justin Welby has waded into the new cycle of zero hours bashing in the media.
But I’m still just as confused as to why zero hours contracts are subject to the vilification they receive.
I mean, sure, when Sports Direct was using them to “trap” a bank of tame workers, that was bad.
But things have changed now – in fact, legislation states that you can’t prevent zero hours workers from working elsewhere.
Yes, they’re often paid the minimum wage (or not much above it), but then again, quite a lot of employees don’t get paid more than they’re legally obliged to be paid.
The fact that Welby has just weighed in might make you think that zero hours contracts had just been introduced, but no!
In fact, I’ve been brushing up on my history (via the BBC history magazine) and I came across a fascinating article about the history of this “tool of oppression”.
Back during the Industrial Revolution, in order for employers to get the growth they wanted, they needed a stable workforce – they needed to know that they had enough people to power the looms etc.
So they hatched a plan – they wanted to have their staff commit to working for 12 months, with contracts they couldn’t escape from.
And if they did escape, then they’d be able to report them to a magistrate who could whip, fine and imprison them.
No such punishment for the employer – they didn’t have to provide a safe working environment, reasonable hours or suitable training.
In 1875 things changed (and about time!).
Leaving before the end of the contract was no longer a criminal offence, although it could be punished by fines (lots of employers still ask for this sanction – they really must remember the old days!).
And thus ‘zero hours’ contracts were born – it was the WORKERS who wanted the freedom to leave if they weren’t happy, or if they were being compelled to work long hours in dangerous conditions (for example).
And so it continued, with true “on call” employees back in Victorian Britain – largely women in low status occupations. There was no fuss about them having zero hours contracts.
It is only in the last decade where the extension of flexible working patterns into more “male” sections of the economy has happened, that concerns have been raised (loudly) about the ability of workers on zero hours contract/s to support their families.
But administered properly, with agreement and respect between employer and employee, zero hours contracts can work as they always have.