Zero-hour contracts in the UK are an affront to progress

It’s Wednesday and so not much blog writing today. I have a few writing commitments to finalise in the coming few weeks and I need some time to do that. So today I provide some working notes and analysis of the data on UK Zero-hour contracts after I updated my dataset today. Some advertising of upcoming events follows and then some great guitar playing. A typical Wednesday at my blog it seems.

Zero hour contracts in the UK

I was updating some datasets today and did some thinking about the so-called – Zero-hour contract – situation in the UK.

Here are some things about this data – really I am just providing some notes I took about the data.

The neoliberal era has generated many indecent affronts to progress and these working arrangements have to be up there at the forefront.

They represent a massive transfer of power to the employer and allow them to push a significant proportion of the risk of enterprise onto the workers, which sort of defies the concept of entrepreneurship (risk and reward, etc).

The first graph shows the evolution of Zero-hour contracts since the December-quarter 2000 to the June-quarter 2021.

It is clear they took after not long after the Tories were elected in May 2010.

This graph adds the unemployed and you see that as unemployment was falling the zero-hour contracts were rising.

At present, the British ONS is reporting a strong growth in unfilled vacancies but my preliminary analysis – more next week – suggests these are concentrated in low-wage employment opportunities, including zero-hour arrangements.

The following graph shows the growth of these contracts across the age distribution from the December-quarter 2013 to the June-quarter 2021.

Other facts are that an increasing proportion of full-time workers and a decreasing proportion of part-time workers are on Zero-hour contracts.

And since the December-quarter 2013, there has been a 56 per cent increase in these contracts – 48 per cent for males and 62 per cent for females.

For those not familiar with this working arrangement, the UK – Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) – indicates that a zero-hour contract allows an employer legally to avoid having to provide a minimum number of working hours to their workforce and the workers are on permanent stand-by to work as and when required.

As is usual, the employers claim this benefits the workers.

The flexible choice narrative is now tiresome, having surfaced in the 1970s, as governments allowed employers to increasingly casualise their workforce.

This coincided with the increased participation of women in the labour force (particularly married women), which reflected social changes (feminism etc).

The conservatives started talking about ‘work-life balance’ etc but the rising incidence of official underemployment told us that the part-time and casual trend was not the exclusive result of ‘choice’ but rather a lack of work, as governments moved towards an austerity bias and allowed labour underutilisation rates (unemployment and underemployment) to persist at elevated levels.

The conservatives use the same argument about these sorts of contracts.

They argue that a high proportion of workers on the Zero-hour contracts are happy. The evidence doesn’t support that conclusion. Around 40 per cent are not happy.

And related evidence on the mechanics of these arrangements is rather damning.

A study – How can job security exist in the modern world of work? (January 19, 2017) from the – Citizens Advice – found that 20 per cent (odd) of employers using these contracts cancelled or altered shifts within a 48 hour period of notice.

They also found that 20 per cent of workers on Zero-hour contracts were unable “to specify times or days when they were unavailable” and 10 per cent indicated they “could not turn down a shift or specify their availability.”

Those sorts of result predicate against the argument that these are worker-friendly arrangements.

On December 17, 2018, the British government released the – Good Work Plan – which sought to outline “how the government will implement the recommendations arising from the Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices.”

The – Taylor Review – was conducted by the boss of the Royal Society of Arts and was published on July 11, 2017.

One of its briefs was to provide legislative advice on how to overcome some of the negative aspects of the Zero-hour contract arrangements in the light of experience.

We are still waiting for the so-called ‘Employment Bill’, although the Government claimed it would implement all the recommendations from the Review.

A discussion of the detail is not something I want to do today but in terms of Zero-hour contracts, the Review found that:

… a minority of employers abuse the current system, transferring too much risk to the individual. This jeopardises workers’ financial security and personal well-being. Matthew Taylor termed this ‘one-sided flexibility’, giving examples of employers cancelling shifts at short notice or sending staff home when customer demand is low. He uncovered evidence of some individuals remaining on insecure, atypical contracts for long periods of time, when their working patterns were sometimes the same as permanent employees who had fixed, regular hours.

The Government claims it will tackle this “one-sided flexibility”. We will see.

There were many other elements that the Government says it will deal with:

1. Compensate workers for shifts cancelled without reasonable notice.

2. Require reasonable notice of hours of work.

3. Enforce the right of workers to switch to different contractual arrangements that would deliver more stable and predictable working conditions are 26 weeks of attachment.

4. Require employers provide information that allows the worker to gauge the likely length of service and other conditions of the job.

5. Entitlements to holidays and pay etc enforced.

6. “The government should replace their minimalistic approach to legislation with a clearer outline of the tests for employment status”.

There were many other relevant recommendations that the Government claims it will accept and legislate in the yet-to-be-seen Employment Bill.

Frankly, the British Labour Party should be out there leading the way on these issues rather than fighting about how to stop members voting for their leaders (see below).

Resist at the Rialto, Brighton

Over September 26-28, 2021, the Resist Movement with partners is staging a great event – Resist at the Rialto – to provide inspiration for progressives who are seeing their political voices crumble given the on-going incompetence of the British Labour Party.

I hope many Labour Party members who are in town for the Labour Party Annual Conference, shift across to the Resist event and throw their weight behind this growing movement.

I will be appearing on Sunday, September 26, 2021, at 11:00 in a session – Is Modern Monetary Theory the solution to the crisis of capitalism?.

While the title is not one I would choose, the session should be excellent (Carlos Garcia and Michael Roberts will also be speaking at that session).

You can find more details at their – Information Page

Write to the organisers if you are interested in them live streaming the event. I am not sure of the details about that.

This is a time to get a voice in the debate.

Apparently, the Labour leadership banned a motion to debate the Party’s approach to a ‘Green New Deal’ at the Conference.

The leadership of the British Labour Party are also trying to shore up their position by changing the way leaders are elected.

The leader (Starmer) is trying to revert to pre-Corbyn rules that privilege the Parliamentary MPs over the rank-and-file members in terms of voting within the Party.

The old system was abandoned in 2014 in favour of one membership, one vote, which is the democratic norm.

This is how Jeremy Corbyn was able to assume leadership, given his popularity with the broad membership but antipathy from the MPs aligned with the old neoliberal Blairite grouping.

If Starmer succeeds in this internal coup, I expect internecine wars will further erode Labour progress.

At the half-way mark between elections, Labour is polling well down on the Tories, the latter which is one of the worst governments Britain has endured.

The leader (Starmer) is well down in the poll relative to Boris Johnson.

He stands for very little it seems except shoring up his own power base and making the Party undemocratic in the process.

I hope everyone gets behind Resist.

Festival of Resistance, October 16-17, 2021

The same group are launching their movement at the – Festival of Resistance – which is being promoted as a “festival of left unity”.

It will be held at the City Conference and Banqueting Centre, Carlton Road, Nottingham, UK.

I will also be appearing at this event and I will release more details when they become known.

There is a great list of speakers, musicians, and artists appearing and presenting.

I hope to see everyone there.

You can get tickets – HERE.

Music – West Coast today

Every guitarist of my generation who has been influenced by jazz, R&B, soul, rock (less for me) and more plays lines that were being worked out on the West Coast of the US, particularly in 1950s around Los Angeles and to a lesser extent San Francisco.

Perhaps many of these guitarists are oblivious to that fact but the point remains.

When – T-Bone Walker – moved from Texas to Los Angeles in the early 1940s he started a trend which has been variously called – West Coast Blues – which is a hybrid style combining jazz modes and – Jump Blues.

There are notable features of this style – lots of left-hand piano bass lines, boogie-woogie piano, jazz-style lead guitar runs, smooth vocals that were the precursor of the great R&B singers of the 1960s.

As Fender and Gibson started to make workable electric guitars and amplifiers became more available, the guitar started to assert a new prominence in the big bands, which for economic reasons were being whittled down to the essential elements to allow musicians to make ends meet.

All the ingredients of the 1960s rock’n’roll were being worked out at this point.

Chuck Berry copied many of Pee Wee’s guitar riffs, even though he never admitted it.

One of the great exponents of this style, who derived his playing from T-Bone Walker, was – Pee Wee Crayton – and if you are a guitarist and you are not sure why you are playing those riffs and the lead lines you do, then it is probable you got them of this guy, down the hand-me-down chain that defines all musical progress.

While he was certainly directly influenced by T-Bone Walker and acknowledged that openly, his early motivation came from listening the – Charlie Christian – who was Benny Goodman’s sideman.

I listened to Pee Wee Crayton a lot in the 1970s and I studied his tone to see if I could get the same sort of sounds because he was one of the first (if not the first) blues players to shift from the hollow-body conventional jazz guitar to the solid-body Fender Stratocaster, apparently after the boss of Fender bestowed one of the early models on him as a gift.

If you listen to the opening lines of the Beatles Revolution you will hear Pee Wee Crayton’s 1954 song ‘Do Unto Others’ channeled through John Lennon.

Lots of the riffs modern blues players use come from this period via T-Bone Walker and Pee Wee Crayton.

Anyway, I dug out an old recording today and refreshed my memory of this wonderful period of electric guitar that shaped what we all do now.

Here is his first single recording (recorded in LA 1948) – Blues After Hours – which went to No. 1 on Billboard R&B charts in that year.

I have this on his debut LP album – Pee Wee Crayton – which was released in 1960 by Modern Records and was essentially a compilation of his singles from 1948.

The legacy of T-Bone Walker is evident.

The band playing included all the great LA players of the time:

1. David Lee Johnson – piano.

2. Buddy Floyd – tenor.

3. Floyd ‘Candy’ Johnson – drums. He was an interesting character as he started out on drums and then became a magnificent sax player.

4. Bill Davis – bass.

Here is some more historical information on – Pee Wee Crayton.

That is enough for today!

(c) Copyright 2021 William Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.

This Post Has 19 Comments

  1. Bill says about the proposed changes to electing the Labour Party leadership: ‘The leadership of the British Labour Party are also trying to shore up their position by changing the way leaders are elected. The leader (Starmer) is trying to revert to pre-Corbyn rules that privilege the Parliamentary MPs over the rank-and-file members in terms of voting within the Party. The old system was abandoned in 2014 in favour of one membership, one vote, which is the democratic norm. This is how Jeremy Corbyn was able to assume leadership, given his popularity with the broad membership but antipathy from the MPs aligned with the old neoliberal Blairite grouping.’
    Those who aren’t living in the UK or involved with the British Labour Party may be interested in more detail. The ‘electoral college’ system (3 colleges – MPs, members, unions) was actually introduced in the 1980s under pressure from the Bennite Left of the party to reduce the role of the MPs in electing the leader. It proved to be the means by which we got Tony Blair. One Member One Vote was introduced by the Right. They wanted to undermine the position of the unions who had given them the wrong Milliband (Ed instead of Dave) as leader. They thought they had the membership all stitched up (the old breakaway SDP had used OMOV). They were wrong and got Jeremy. Moral: changes in the leadership rules have a way of blowing up in the faces of the people who promote them.

  2. “(Carlos Gacia and Michael Roberts will also be speaking at that session).”

    Carlos García maybe?

  3. The zero hour contract has been around in Canada for quite some time. The postal service, as a good example, was once a respectable public sector employer, and now as a “crown corporation” seems much less, after increasing dependency on the position of “temporary worker”.

    Those workers are trained to fill any position, receive bottom of the scale pay, rarely get a raise, are ineligible for sick time or employee benefits. If they can endure a number of years of such employment they may eventually become eligible for an opening as a part time worker.

    When called to work, they are expected to fill the position of a full time employee who is sick or on vacation, and usually have short notice as to when they might be called to work.
    All of the jobs are physically demanding, involve long hours, and require attention to detail.

    The one card a temporary worker has to play, is to just not pick up the phone when called to work, an option that is becoming so popular that the stock of theoretically available temporary workers has to be increased periodically to ensure the work is completed.

    Ironically, there is no longer any guarantee that a particular post office will have a large enough “buffer stock” of zero hour contract workers to ensure all of the work gets done, without paying overtime to part/full time workers, who are slowly becoming exhausted as this happens with greater frequency.

    Me thinks the revolution is coming!

  4. Fordist capitalism, ecocidal though it was as we too slowly came to realize, did provide decent and secure jobs with adequate pay and benefits for a young person, with or without higher education, so that he and/or she could start a family, buy a home, and go on to live a viable life. Neoliberal capitalism (epitomized by Zero-hour contracts) does none of these things. Utter precarity becomes the new normal, precarity which prevents the vast majority of the young from starting out in life with even a ghost of a chance of living what, under Fordist capitalism, had been the ordinary, potentially meaningful life lived by their parents. We have maxed out capitalism to the point where viable human existence is no longer possible except for the already rich. As more and more of the young come to understand this, J Christensen’s revolution should pick up steam and hopefully boil over into: first, a more humane and environmentally-sensitive post-neoliberal capitalism (as has already been talked about at Davos); and then, into some form of eco-socialism which will likely become necessary to fully address continuing and deepening environmental concerns. Pipe dream, you say? My answer is that it’s either something along the lines of this two-step evolution or the end of civilization as we’ve known it, perhaps the end of the human species (and many others). Is the self-preservation instinct stronger than the death drive? We’re now in the process of finding out.

  5. “This is how Jeremy Corbyn was able to assume leadership.”

    It should be remembered that Starmer himself was also elected leader under OMOV, so not entirely sure what he has to complain about!

    Of course, the move to change it is simply to keep out the left for ever more, but then that has always been the function of the British Labour Party.

    Once you understand that, for Labour, winning elections is secondary to preventing socialism, everything it does makes perfect sense.

  6. New Labour which courted the wealthy and happily ran the country on rising house prices and cheap underclass labour, wanted to break Labour’s historic relationship with the Unions it despised. Now that many left leaning people in fragile economic circumstances are out there as ununionised individuals, Starmer and his cronies want to use the unions to sideline individual members. You couldn’t make it up, except by following the common thread of the neo-liberal dominated PLP scheming against anything that looks like socialism.

  7. @PatrickB, conference is going to be very interesting. I’ve got me (ex officio) pass and shall be preaching MMT and LVT loudly. But also furtively distributing #ItWasAScam leaflets inside.

  8. @Carol Wilcox:
    thanks for mentioning #ItWasAScam; a google search reveals all the info.

    I was always disappointed by Blair’s views on a 2-state solution, and now I know why.

    Doc Evatt, who simultaneously supported the creation of Israel, and resisted the imposition of the veto on the new UNSC (in 1946), displayed a real love of Israel, whose security could have been guaranteed along with the legitimate rights of the Palestinians, if his vision for a strong UNSC had been realized.

    Hence the ‘individual rights’ ideologues who eviscerated the UNSC (via imposition of the veto) are the true antisemites, abetting Israel to become the oppressor apartheid state it is today.

    Of course ‘socialism’ is also a despised concept in the minds of ‘individual rights’ ideologues, accusing China of human rights abuses in Xinjiang, when China has successfully de-radicalized Islamist separatist terrorists and created above poverty employment for all ethnicities in Xinjiang. (I haven’t been to Xinjiang myself, but – given China’s eradication of poverty in all provinces – I think Chinese accounts more believable than fake BBC accounts, for precisely the same reasons as pointed out in the #ItWasAScam article. Anti socialism.

  9. @Neil Halliday I rather think your anti-BBC stance, and brushing over many other sources, has got the better of you. China has undoubtedly raised the living standards, health, education of collosal numbers, a major plus to set against negatives of their economic, social and environmental model, and of course the buried truth of the Mao years of mass death and cultural destruction, extended to Cambodia. But there is even less excuse now for socialist/socially inclined people elsewhere, to be blind to the not good things, than in the days when western socialists brandished copies of the little red book.

    I haven’t been to Xinjiang either, but I have spent long enough in China to know that it would be difficult to go anywhere that was regarded as off-limits to western eyes. A friend cycled from Australia to the UK, and Xinjiang was the only area where he was stopped and forced to continue his journey to the border by train. I find it strange that you have more faith in a Chinese spokesman in these cover-up circumstances. I’ve also seen enough elsewhere in China, besides Xinjiang and Tibet (where I also can’t go except under strict control) to know that China’s ethnic minorities, even the non-Muslim and non-Tibetan Buddhist ones, don’t get the same deal as the ruling and dominant Han. (I’m well aware that here in the UK we also have ethnic inequality). Please don’t give me the de-radicalizing Islamist separatist terrorists line to shut down what is happening in Xinjiang and what has happened in Tibet since the PLA marched in in 1951. Even some of the Chinese who come out with this, can’t hide their doubts, even after their education cum indoctrination.

  10. @Patrick B.

    “I’m well aware that here in the UK we also have ethnic inequality”.

    So pot calling the kettle black, we are all pricks.

    meanwhile the world’s largest open air prison in Gaza barely rates a mention, while Xinjiang (regardless of veracity of Western accusations) is the justification for containing China’s rise – actually a cover to maintain the disastrous US global hegemony.

    See how ideology works? Anyone for a UNSC without veto (Evatt’s vision of a world without resorting to war as a means of dispute settlement between nations)?

  11. @Neil Halliday. I’m a UK citizen (and presently stuck back in the UK) but I’m no part of the ruling elite or establishment (at present I don’t own a house or even drive a car) so I don’t feel any hypocrisy in calling out both China, Israel and its backers and the western powers that have never wanted to come to terms with human cost of their imperialism and my country’s own awful government. So please don’t include me in your we of black pots and pricks. I think you’re wrong in that our rulers would prefer that Xinjiang isn’t a major issue just as they have let Tibet and Gaza equally disappear off the radar. How they hate being reminded by a politician of principle such as Corbyn. What China does in Xinjiang ought to be of as much, but is far less concern to ‘the west’ than its claim to the whole of the South China Sea, overseas influence particularly in Africa, not massively better than Western racist imperialism, and threat to Taiwan now backed with massive military build-up.

  12. Patrick,

    Getting back to the topic (and to free ourselves from ugly politics and ideologies): “It’s the economy, stupid”.

    And with climate change, “It’s the global economy, stupid” (of which China will soon be the largest single player).

    Now, since MMT has taught us about the fiscal capacity of the currency issuer, some reform at the UN would be very useful….eg a UN authorized World Bank to oversee the purchase of the entire global fossil industry by national government-owned central banks.

    Presumably the resources to build the necessary solar/wind backed by pumped-hydro storage exist, therefore ‘cost’ is irrelevant (including “opportunity cost”) . No carbon taxes necessary, and any extra demand on resources would be offset by a global economy based on free (except for maintenance costs), green electricity.

    A case of ‘money printing’, in which the *deflationary* effect resulting from near free electricity more than counters the inflationary potential of extra demand on resources?

  13. “Presumably the resources to build the necessary solar/wind backed by pumped-hydro storage exist”

    They do, but they are currently in use by the private sector. Therefore you have to tax to get the private sector to release those resources for public use.

    MMT isn’t a free lunch. It’s a different viewpoint that shows you that government spends unemployment, not money.

  14. @Neil Wilson:

    “They do, but they are currently in use by the private sector. Therefore you have to tax to get the private sector to release those resources for public use.”

    1. The first step is the most important one, ie public sector purchase of the entire private fossil industry. Costs nothing, for government-owned central banks.

    2. Now the public sector owns the vast resources including technical and transferable equipment and labour, of the (“nationalized/globalized”) fossil industry, to begin building the necessary green infrastructure.

    3. Add all currently unemployed available labour (considerable at present, globally), to progress the green transition as far as possible without impinging on resource use by the – now much reduced – private sector (since the fossil industry is now in public hands).
    (Note: mining of required materials can be considerably increased, of course, as this extra labour comes on stream).

    4. So far no increased taxation required.

    5. Depending on the actual degree of the climate emergency, at this point, resource diversion from private to public use may be required to avoid inflation.
    Still, price controls rather than taxation may be workable, in the brave new world – indeed, new world order based on co-operation – I have outlined, necessary to save the planet.

    Market solutions will take too long if the climate scientists are correct. Simple as that.

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