Young workers must lead the fight against zero-hour contracts

Today is International Youth Day and here in the UK, zero-hour contracts are big news.

Approximately one million people – more than four times as many workers as previously thought – are on zero-hour contracts in Britain.

If you’re unlucky enough to find yourself lumbered with such a job, it means no guaranteed hours, no guaranteed work and no guaranteed pay.

You can be called up by your boss at a moment’s notice and expected to be at work.

Zero-hour contracts make it impossible for workers to plan their lives.

You don’t know one week to the next how much work you will have, how much you will get paid or whether you’ll have any work at all.

As many as 14 per cent of people on zero-hour contracts say they do not earn enough to live. Many more are struggling to pay rent and utility bills.


Whose crisis is this?

We’re in the middle of one of the worst economic crises that capitalism has ever seen.

But these ‘tough economic times’ are often used as an excuse to attack workers’ rights and are used as a justification for zero-hour contracts.

And whose economic crisis is it anyway? Ordinary people didn’t create the economic crisis. It was the bankers and big business. But it is low-paid workers who are paying the price.

Under successive governments, workers’ rights have been undermined and attacked. Most recently, the ruling Conservative-Liberal Democrat (Con-Dem) coalition has introduced a £1200 charge for workers to present a grievance at work before an employment tribunal.

In driving down wages and work conditions, big business is taking a lead from the savage £95 billion budget cuts being made by the Con-Dem coalition. The Con-Dems have defended their enormous welfare cuts by labelling many unemployed and disabled people as “scroungers”.

Zero-hour contracts blow apart the government’s lie on welfare cuts. Many new benefit claimants are in work, but with barely enough hours to survive.

If you’re on a zero-hour contract, it makes it almost impossible to claim benefits, as you don’t know from one week to the next how many hours you will work and how much you be paid. We need a united campaign of workers, the unemployed, and students to stop austerity attacks on welfare and reverse the race to the bottom.

100 years ago in Britain, dockers and other workers would line up in front of greedy bosses hoping to be picked for work. Zero-hour contracts and the casualisation of employment is a return to this practise.

The trade unions have fought hard to win the rights we have today. The first trade unions were formed to fight the 19th century equivalent of zero-hour contracts.

But what we see today is that zero-hour contracts are often used to victimise trade union members. To undermine attempts to organise workers on zero-hour contracts, bosses, instead of sacking trade union members, (which would be illegal) simply refuse to give them any more hours, day after day, week after week, until they’re forced to quit out of sheer poverty.

Quitting a job can also affect your entitlement to benefits.


Mass campaign

Youth Fight for Jobs was formed in 2009 to fight against rising youth unemployment because none of the main political parties were taking the issue seriously.

Since then we have organised countless protests to address the issues facing young people.

Youth Fight for Jobs is calling on the trade union movement to launch a mass campaign to organise, unionise and fight to stop zero-hour contracts.

Although some companies see a unionised workforce as a threat to profits, getting organised is the only lasting solution to ensure decent jobs with proper contracts.

The economic crisis is wasting the talents of young people. Around the world 290 million young people are unemployed. And almost a quarter (23 per cent) of young people across the EU are out of work.

Even where there has been a shallow economic recovery or the economic crisis hasn’t been as deep, we have seen a growth of under-employment. This has been reflected by the strikes by fast-food workers in USA demanding a four-fold increase in wages to 15 US dollars an hour to reflect the real cost of living.

Youth Fight for Jobs supports these strikes and protests.

We have recently launched the ‘Are you Sick of your Boss?’ campaign to take up the issue of under-employment and zero-hour contracts.

We have been organising protests outside zero-hour contract employers in towns across the UK.

We have also been making workers aware of their rights.

For example, nearly 90 per cent of the 23,000 staff working for British retail giant Sports Direct are on zero-contract hours.

We have been putting pressure on Mike Ashley, the billionaire CEO of Sports Direct, to end these precarious contracts, as well as discussing with staff about how they can get organised to stop the practise.

The Financial Times recently said that if you want capitalism, then we’re going to have to put up with zero-hour contracts. We say that if the capitalist system can afford zero-hour contracts, we can’t afford capitalism.