As we approach the last few weeks before this year’s General Election, The Telegraph isn’t even pretending to be anything but a Tory propaganda machine. This front page features a letter from more than 100 of the country’s most senior business figures; warning that a Labour government would “threaten jobs and deter investment” in the UK. The whole thing’s a bit weird when you think about it – do these 103 multi-millionaires all lunch together at Pret and brainstorm ideas like this? Did they dismiss the (easier) idea of one of them just tweeting the sentiment and all of them retweeting it? Which one of them thought, “You know what? The general public really needs to hear about how amazing we find the Corporation Tax cuts – let’s write a letter to The Telegraph like it’s still the 90’s when that was a thing.”
Fed up of hearing the opinions of the country’s richest speaking about how taxes affect them (if it’s not business leaders, it’s pop stars crying about the proposed mansion tax) I asked a few of my friends to talk about their experience on a zero-hours contract and earning below The Living Wage.
“My experience was absolute hell,” admits Chloe from Liverpool. “I was employed on a zero-hours contract at a local pub, which I was wary of, but had no other option with the job market as it was. Initially it was fine – I was a full-time member of staff, regularly doing 35 plus hours a week, and the first time it became an issue was when I became sick and learnt that as a zero-hours contract employee I wasn’t entitled to any sick pay.”
It was only last week that George Osborne, a man who looks like his sex life is exclusively a sad hand job on his birthday, the Chancellor unveiled his final budget before the election.
“More pubs saved, jobs created, families supported – and a penny off a pint for the third year in a row,” George proudly declared to the Deputy Speaker.
“More jobs may be created in the hospitality sector but it’s not exactly secure employment based on my experience,” John from Manchester recalls.
“I had been unfairly dismissed from my job and unable to even apply for benefits for weeks.”
“Last year I was working in a city centre restaurant. It was all going pretty well and I’d been there a few months. But then one shift my manager made a mistake regarding a customer payment from a table in my section. It was quite a large amount, and as the owners were in he didn’t want to admit fault, so immediately sacked me instead. I got home and straightaway started looking at claiming unfair dismissal. However, I learnt that you can’t put a case forward unless you’ve worked for the employer for at least two years. So that was it – I had been unfairly dismissed from my job and unable to even apply for benefits for weeks.”
Stories like this are all too common. Having personally worked in venues that would take money out of wages to cover shortages from theft etc (but weirdly enough, staff would never see a penny should the till be up), bars that forced employees to work Bank Holidays for regular pay or face being sacked (all legal thanks to those lovely zero-hours contracts), and clubs where you’d be expected to work until 2am, go home and be back in by 9am. What’s that you say? The Daily Rest Rule clearly states you must have an 11 hour break between shifts. Oh, that’s so cute you think zero-hours contract, minimum wage workers have such rights – access to this ‘luxury’ is normally signed away before you start a job. When you work on a zero-hours contracts you grow to accept that paying to travel into work, only to find out your shift is cancelled, is just the way it is. You know that you have no right to strike as you’ll just be sacked immediately if you show disgust at the way your working environment is operating. You scrape together enough money to put a deposit down on renting a flat but discover you can’t be considered a tenant as you don’t have a regular employment contract; even though you’ve been working more than 40 hours a week for over a year. You have less employment rights than an animal appearing on television and you put up with it, because what else can you do?
Some may be reading this and still argue that zero-hours contracts have their benefits for the employee; students, for example, who may want flexible working contracts while they study. For those who think that, I have saved the best (or worst) until last – my friend Lauren, who couldn’t attend her own mother’s funeral without the fear of losing her zero-hours contract job!
“When my mum died I had been employed by a bar for over two years and had never really worked less than 35 hours a week. Obviously when my mum died, the last thing I wanted to be doing the next day was pulling pints. I knew being on a zero-hours contract I wouldn’t receive any wages for any time off but I didn’t expect to receive such pressure to get back to work after only two days off. Surely, if you’re going to argue that zero-hours contracts benefit the worker too, I would have been able to take a week off to grieve my mum without having to worry that I wouldn’t have a job to return to. Luckily, my friends there all covered my shifts and ensured that there would be no reason to dismiss me but it shouldn’t have been that way. I will never forget how disgusting I was treated by my employers – when I returned I was made to feel like I’d been sunning myself on a beach for a week, not burying my mother. Thank God I found another job not long after.”
While the Conservative Party and their supporters may want to think ‘Britain is Working’ they must admit that it’s only working for employers. The Telegraph may think that multi-millionaires supporting tax breaks that make them richer is front page news, but it’s not really the hot topic down the food banks; where an estimated 100,000 people are receiving emergency food parcels. The fifth of UK workers that don’t earn the living wage aren’t exactly going to be psyched to hear the rich discussing getting richer while they don’t even make 7 quid an hour.
Why doesn’t The Telegraph give a voice to the 1.8 million workers exploited in Britain on a zero-hours contract rather than the minority that have seen their average pay increase by 14% under Conservative rule? Although, that would only be too fair on low paid workers and that’s not really what Tories are all about, is it?
See also: Budget Bullshit