Category Archives: coalition

Zero-hours Contracts – The Underemployed

Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life” – Confucius

Imagine a world where everyone springs out of bed each morning knowing they are heading to a workplace they love.

It’s not easy.

Lives lived on the rubbish tips in Lagos, in clothes factories in Bangladesh and on the manufacturing lines of our best-loved tech brands in China leave an incredible stain on our consumer conscience.

And even in the UK, one of the richest countries in the world, the zero-hours contracts that have become the norm for upward of 1m people working everywhere from local councils to large chains, are another blemish. They leave many employees uncertain, uninvested in and ultimately underemployed.

Consider this: strolling to work knowing that representatives directly elected by you are happily working alongside those chosen by your employer. You’re looking ahead to your first sailing holiday, taken at the retreat owned by your firm, and your future is assured by the company pension scheme. In fact, you even know you’ll get six months off, paid , when you reach 25 years – who wouldn’t stay at a place like this? And in the meantime, you’re able to take paid leave to work within your community. Not to mention, your company bonus has been on average an extra 15 per cent of your salary for the last five years.

A fantasy? A work of fiction? Or one of the UK’s most well-known stores?

Unlike many workers in the UK, this is a reality for employees, not just ‘partners’ working at John Lewis, one of the UK’s largest chains of department stores. A successful British brand, and an employee-owned business, not failing, but actually bringing in more profit than many years pre-recession, in spite of, or rather because everyone has a stake in its success.

Profit rose too at McDonald’s this year, increasing 3.7 per cent to $1.4bn. The same McDonald’s that has used zero-hours contracts since it rocked up here in 1974, underemploying 90 per cent of its 92,000-strong workforce. At Sports Direct, profits soared 40 per cent to more than £200m. But 90 per cent of its 23,000 staff, those working with zero guarantee of hours or workplace benefits, won’t be sharing in it. The Queen’s very own Buckingham Palace has likewise taken people on with no guarantee of work and pay. Although the nature of the latter’s jobs are seasonal, surely managers at each of these large employers can be sure of how many people they need from one week to the next?

Zero-hours contracts, the increase in part-time and casual work, the failure of the minimum wage to deliver anything other than the bare minimum and a lack of a true living wage are symptoms of a sick system. They symbolise a short-sightedness where cynical employers see their workers as a cost, not a valuable resource, merely something that could one day be replaced by a machine.

We know that executive pay and bonuses go up in both the corporate and public sector, while the gap between the rich and the poor widens and 700,000 public sector workers are laid to rest. Agency staff, guaranteed no paid holiday, sick days, bonuses, job security, or even working hours, obligingly take their place. ‘At least I have a job’, they think.

This is typified in care work, where the modus operandi should, of course, be caring, but instead councils cut corners by buying cheap private sector services where workers are badly paid, poorly trained and are ultimately replaceable. Those at the top call it ‘flexible’, they say it’s a ‘buyers’ market’ for employers – workers are a commodity to be bought and sold after all – so turnover of staff doesn’t matter. There are plenty more where they came from.

New Labour called this globalisation, while the Coalition is now pitting ‘us’ (British Nationals) against ‘them’ (Illegal Immigrants) with vitriolic ‘Go Home’ messaging, omitting the fact that we welcomed in immigrant workers to ensure there would always be someone more desperate to do it for less. Meanwhile our education system, failing on maths and languages, left us ill-prepared to be able to go and do work elsewhere.

Our global economy failed. That’s what the Conservatives have been blaming on Labour for the last three years while further deconstructing workers’ rights and our public institutions. Labour has looked on, knowing full well it sold out the hard-working people that made its name and bought into the kind of corporate thinking that helped get us to where we are today.

No one has the right to a job, many will argue, much less one they like, but every unemployed person could become the next benefit claimant, the next person seeking help for depression from the NHS or the next crime statistic. The next member of the ‘undeserving poor’ scrounging from the tax payer.

There is no getting away from the fact that the UK’s economy has a few broken cogs that have contributed to the failed system, like the minor detail that many big corporations don’t pay taxes. And, the in-work benefits system – a supplement for low wages – is used by more people than the amount spent on welfare for the unemployed. A policy which incidentally also serves as good ploy to ensure unemployment figures are within ‘acceptable’ levels come election time.

Perversely, our rotten economy actually depends on people having money to spend. These same businesses that pay their workers poorly need consumers to be able go out and buy things just as much as their staff need security in work. With wages held down and little confidence in the future, the tills are unlikely to be ringing as loudly as shareholders and pension fund managers would like.

Like the environment, tax avoidance and housing, our politicians have failed us on ensuring we have the jobs that we need, and we have, knowingly or not, left ourselves with very little means of protection. While the Trade Union Congress has recently analysed the phenomenon of the casualisation of labour, falling union membership and successive government attacks on organised labour have left them in little position to bolster a meaningful fight back.

For every John Lewis, it appears, there are many more McDonalds. And there is always a high-paid exec who argues that their industry will go elsewhere if pay and bonuses are curbed, while millions have to wait silently for a call into work that might never come.

We consider ourselves world leaders, but how can we lead the world’s workers into secure and meaningful work when we can’t even guarantee it for our own? The Government not only tells us to get on our bikes and find a job, but also knows that there may be zero work when we get there, even if we’ve signed a contract.

In a world where a contract means nothing, where work means nothing, where next?

Illustration by Sky Nash

Written for Let’s Be Brief.

“… And the government that has to make those cuts will make itself unelectable for a generation.” The Coalition.

“… And the government that has to make those cuts will make itself unelectable for a generation.”

Cameron and Clegg would be weeping into their well-tailored suit sleeves at the words of the Panorama reporter, if they weren’t so busy getting off…

Hours and pages of serious coverage, from BBC News 24 to the Economist claim the pair have “got into bed”, after their “civil partnership” in the back garden (tee hee) of Number 10 (nope, can’t make a joke out of that…).

From the media that has grown up alongside the New Labour government that, for all its failings, can be celebrated for legislating to give gay people the right to make a union accepted in the eyes of the law, the crude comparison made when two men stand as a pair, is, actually saddening.

“OOO, it’s like a fake wedding, like one of those fake weddings Elton John got…”

Grow up.

The Independent claims that the “courtship” could have been going on since 2006, the poaching of bright Liberal Democrats to possible Conservative defection.

But this isn’t just a bare-faced switch of allegiance, this wasn’t inevitable, the conclusion needn’t have been foregone.

And unfortunately for those of us who would have preferred a centre-left alliance, the opportunity wasn’t there, Labour weren’t ready.

The government would not have been legitimate if the administration formed was a Lib-Lab coalition.

Although smaller party support was offered by the Scottish National Party, and Plaid Cymru, a “rainbow coalition”, Labour declined, telling maybe of their feeling of guilt?

This too may have created instability, and then what? Another election, with surely a similarly fractured end?

New Labour now need to go away and think about what they’ve done. If it’s our Tory past you’re frightened of, Labour history is more recent.

I will say it and say it again. Two wars, a ‘global financial collapse’ fuelled here by our leader’s belief that he had “ended boom and bust”.

Surely the Venus Fly Trap of a capitalist economy?

Bureaucracy, inequality and greed.

So call it Libcons, Libservatives, or Torycrats if you have to, but two of our political parties have come to a sensible agreement, and I am glad.

With the £163billion deficit and £6bn worth of cuts announced in the Queen’s Speech, nobody can envy the new coalition.

The eyes of the world are on them, or at least we’d like to think they are, and many people are aching for it to fail.

But, scared and scare-mongers amongst us, the Conservatives cannot and will not go off the deep-end. The mines were all closed the first time, for one.

And nobody wants to be hated in the 21st Century, we are Tweeting and Facebook petitioning in the biggest public space there has ever been.

It wouldn’t take a 12-year-old the break during Hollyoaks to super-impose Cameron’s head onto the body of Edward Scissorhands.

So concessions have been made. Some, as a Liberal Democrat member, that I am not happy with.

Will agreeing a referendum on electoral reform produce Nick Clegg’s desired result? The majority of people after all are Labour and Conservative voters, whose parties benefit from the current system.

But if it happens then the kind of coalition like the one being made here would be common-place, which is good.

“What are they doing, compromising and agreeing on things if they’re not from the same party?”
THAT’S THE POINT!!

Some things are just consensus and more heads are often better than few.

And what of opting out of votes on the contentious issues?

Not what Lib Dems wanted, but they didn’t win. We will have to make do.
Academies? Pupil premiums? We shall see… But scrapping wasteful ID cards and rolling back the CCTV state can’t be a bad thing.

But instead of complaining and worrying about cuts, which everyone agreed had to be made, why don’t we, as a nation, get up off our majoratively fat arses and look at what things we could save, because we like or use them, if the government can’t? Leisure services are usually the first to go.

For our hatred of politicians and government, we can’t help but want them to microwave our dinner, put it in front of us and move fork to mouth while massaging our knee.

I hope Ed Miliband gets the Labour leadership. He is a brilliant speaker, and crucially for the necessary severance from New Labour was not an MP when the decision was made to go to war.
And I hope there is a new Left, I’d love to be a part of it.

So Dave, Nick, good luck, fortune favours the brave.

Well Hung- The End.


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This is the last issue of Pluto 2010, it’s been emotional. And with this, comes my final opportunity to grace the pages of your student rag with some acquired opinion.


By the time this column goes to print, we will have seen the last of the first ever leaders’ debates and will be in the final week before the next General Election.


The question you know you should be asking yourself, according to the faces coming through your letterbox and the reporters trying wildly to gauge your opinion, is who will be making the big decisions when you’re… making the big decisions?


Despite prime-time TV banter, minority name-checking and #Iagreewithnick, according to the Poll of Polls Poll (yes, really), on 27th April, no one party has taken a decisive lead.


The Conservatives are coming out on top with 33 per cent of the vote, with the Lib Dems on 30 and Labour flagging on 28.


Although the Conservatives would win the public vote in this scenario, because of the peculiarities, for wont of a better word, of our ancient voting system, Labour would still gain more than 30 more seats (and 176 more than the Lib Dems despite getting two per cent fewer votes).


Because of this, a hung parliament is now 1/2 on bet365.com, if you put £2 on, you would only get £1 back. Plus your stake.


So who or what exactly will be hung?


The Liberal Democrats, assuming they gain the fewest seats of the three would naturally want to support the winning party, but who technically wins in a race like this?


A Lib/Lab coalition is easier to envision ideologically, but will be a union that spells the end of Gordon Brown, as Nick Clegg stipulated in offering his support.


But if Labour don’t win the public vote but still get the most seats overall, big questions should be raised about the fairness of the voting system. Anyone can see that coming second, or, by most polls estimations third, but winning isn’t right. Will this finally be the end of First-Past-The-Post?


While the Lib Dems have always been pro-electoral reform, because it doesn’t weight so heavily the big two, the Conservatives are fiercely against it. They want to win. If they don’t however, they will need others support.


A Lib/Con coalition is less natural, although many councils (Preston city for example) work, somewhat, on a Lib/Con cooperative. Conservatives are Euro and Reform-sceptics, but will concessions be made?


Even as late as 15th April, the day of the first debate, the Conservatives were gaining 40 per cent in some polls, enough to get that much needed majority. Shouldn’t they be doing better?


Reuters also reported, or bragged on Wednesday that ‘Conservatives rake in more election funds than rivals’, £2.2m, compared to just £150,000 for the Lib Dems and there has been Facebook advertising, banners and leaflets coming through your door quicker than they can cut down the trees.


We may yet see a progressive Conservative government take power.

This is a great time of endings and beginnings, at university, where you live, if you’re graduating, where you will work, maybe you’ve fallen in love and you’re thinking about starting and family… Yikes. And in or country as well.


Polls can only give an indication of what will happen on Election Day. The public, given the best information that has ever been available must now spend the next week making up their collective minds.


In the words of the great actor, Errol Flynn I would like to say ‘I’ve had a hell of a lot of fun and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it’.


I imagine Gordon is wishing he could say the same.


The End.