Time travail

Time travail

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The news that 1.4 million people are now employed on zero-hours contracts will doubtless bring the usual knee-jerk response from all sides of the industrial relations argument.

zero-hoursUnions and their allies will talk of exploitation and money-grabbing bosses, while employers will speak of the need for flexibility so that they can respond quickly and efficiently to changes in demand.

The truth, unsurprisingly, is somewhere in between and a degree more complicated than the sound-bites you will hear on the TV news would have you believe.

Let’s start with the obvious.

In an economy which has been kicked around without mercy for the last six years, any job is a bonus.

So talk of banning zero-hours contracts – as Ed Miliband has spoken of in the past – is a nonsense.

A ban would not mean a sudden improvement in working conditions for all, as Ed seems to suggest.

Rather, it would simply mean fewer jobs to go round and more people thrown back onto the dole.

But that does not mean unscrupulous employers should be able to use these contracts simply as a means of developing a throwaway workforce towards which it has no responsibility or obligations.

It is patently wrong for companies to sign up staff on such contracts and then offer them little work while preventing them from finding opportunities elsewhere.

At their best, zero-hours contracts can be a win-win. The boss gets the flexibility to respond to the ebb and flow of business life, while the worker can benefit from a job which suits their lifestyle.

It’s interesting to note that the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show that many on these contracts are either retired or in education.

That gives the very strong indication that their work fits around other parts of their life, rather than the other way around.

The nub of the problem is not the zero-hours contracts themselves, but the poor way in which they are sometimes implemented.

So, by all means introduce some safeguards surrounding the contracts. But let’s also look at improving the way we work with our colleagues at the same time.

Because bad managers produce bad results. For everyone.

Jon Simcock
Jon Simcock