Two years ago Unite, one of the country’s largest unions, reported that up to 5.5 million British workers were employed with contracts promising less than three hours of work a week.
Of course, government figures that document the growing use of zero-hours contracts tend to understate its existence. Yet their latest national statistics are clear that over the course of six months the number of workers abused on such ‘contracts’ has sky-rocketed by 21 per cent (September 3, Leicester Mercury).
Astoundingly, this growth is even greater locally, and the Mercury reported how the “number of zero-hours employment contracts across the East Midlands has increased by 35 per cent” over the same time period.
The government data illustrated that 1 in 13 of the workers on zero-hours contracts lived in the East Midlands, which considered alongside Unite’s figures would mean that two years ago approximately 420,000 individuals were being ripped off on such contracts in our neck of the woods.
If we then made the conservative assumption that the use of such contracts had stayed stable and had only increased in the past six months by the aforementioned 35 per cent, that would mean around 570,000 workers are now employed on zero-hours contracts here in the East Midlands!
Needless to say these increasingly exploited workers are society’s real wealth-producers, with their bosses just being thieves by another name. If such bosses say they cannot afford to pay their workers a living wage with fair contracts, then why should they be allowed to take a ‘wage’ by destroying the lives of their employees.
With economic exploitation growing by the day, it is all the more important to support efforts to unionise all workers, especially those suffering under the duress of zero-hours contracts. In doing this, lessons can be learnt from the recent organising efforts of Greenwich Library workers.
When a ‘social enterprise’ called Greenwich Leisure Limited took over the Greenwich libraries in 2012, they moved quickly to cut posts and deny pay rises, whilst at the same time employing more zero-hour contract workers. The workers fought back through Unite, and, eventually, after taking strike action, were able to force their employer to increase pay, reduce their use of zero-hour contracts, and employ 22 new permanent staff.
With the Labour Party about to elect a genuine socialist to its leadership (by a landslide), now is the time to get involved with the campaign for workplace justice, and work with socialists to ensure that all employers pay their workers a minimum of £10 an hour with guaranteed hours.
If the American socialist Councillor Kshama Sawant can campaign and win $15 an hour for all workers in Seattle, then trade union backed demands for £10 an hour seems more than reasonable here.
This letter was emailed to the Leicester Mercury mailbox on 3rd September.