Local job seekers in Lancaster and Morecambe could be facing further misery in their hunt for a living wage after it was revealed that the government is planning to force people who are out of work to take zero hours contract jobs, or face losing their benefit.
The Independent newspaper reported on Monday that Department for Work and Pensions has said sanctions could be imposed on people who turn down an offer of work even if it came with no guarantee of a full-time wage.
This is possible because Universal Credit should adjust the levels of benefit automatically to correspond with the number of hours worked.
People on zero-hours contracts are essentially “on-call”, working when and if required. Critics say they can be exploited by unscrupulous employers to reward or punish employees.
According to figures released last week by the Office for National Statistics, there are about 1.4 million zero hour contracts in the UK, and the the government says such contracts offer an average 25 hours work a week and can be a good means of gaining experience.
No-one seems to be in any doubt that they can be a good way of working, if the job offers enough regular work to pay your bills. But the problem with these contracts is that they often don’t and now national campaign group 38 Degress - which has considerable local support, with volunteers recently running a voter registration campaign – are asking their supporters to protest about the planned changes.
This is the situation that over one million people currently out of work in the UK will soon be facing. If they don’t apply for, and accept, ‘suitable’ zero hours contract jobs they could lose their benefits (as reported by the Independent). Even though these jobs offer no guaranteed hours and no security.
After hearing from over 35,000 of 38 Degrees members, business minister Vince Cable carried out a review of zero hours contracts. As the Mirror newspaper reported last December, he’s already said that there’s “clear evidence of abuse”, but another part of the Coalition government is ploughing ahead with changes which could potentially force more people onto these contracts.
"Finding work is becoming increasingly hard," say 38 Degrees. "Most people just want a job that’s secure with a regular wage. But being forced to take a job on a zero hours contract could jeopardise that. If you don’t know what days you're working from week to week, it's hard to arrange interviews for a more secure role.
"Last year lots of 38 Degrees members shared their personal experiences of zero hours contracts. It was pretty shocking. Some had been forced to work extra hours for free. Some were threatened with reduced hours for taking a day off sick. Some were disciplined for questioning these bullying tactics.
"For some, zero hours contracts offer flexibility and the perfect way of working. But for others, ‘flexibility’ actually means job insecurity and exploitation."
• Take two minutes to email the Employment Minister Esther McVey and and tell her to rethink her plans: https://secure.38degrees.org.uk/zero-hours-esther-mcvey; and write to your local MP and tell them what you think