Home > Updates > Zero-Hour Contracts – Usdaw Silence Ends, But Action Needed Now

Zero-Hour Contracts – Usdaw Silence Ends, But Action Needed Now

After being silent on the hot issue of zero-hour contracts for a month, the Autumn issue of Arena finally carries some comment and some proposals for tackling this problem by Usdaw’s leadership. The two articles (a news item and John Hannett’s column) plus a video in the online edition are welcome in highlighting the threat they pose to all workers. Not only do zero-hour contracts mean that workers on them are highly insecure both in terms of knowing when they’re working and how much they have to live off, but when used on a wide scale as companies such as McDonalds and Sports Direct, they can undermine the existence of full-time contracts and the pay and conditions that come with that.

Yet the comments are short on action. All Hannett pledges in the video is to appeal to members to let the union know who is on zero-hour contracts, with the promise of doing some campaigning on the matter later, in the column he puts it “We are keen to run an evidence-based campaign on this issue but need our members to let us know the real extent and impact these contracts are having in our sectors”.

More accurate information about the extent of zero hour contracts in retail would be useful, in particularly clarifying the situation regarding Boots who Usdaw have a recognition agreement with (and Usdaw President Jeff Broome is an employee) where the media have reported thousands of employees are on zero-hour contracts. However, that shouldn’t be a substitute to taking a strong stance against those who are already known to utilise such contracts in a widespread manner and sending a strong message to employers who may be tempted to go down such a route of insecurity for their staff and particularly new hires.

As a union overwhelmingly representing retail workers it is shameful that the union hasn’t publicised anything on the matter to its members until now. Although John Hannett appeared to be quoted in some newspaper articles on the issue, nothing appeared on Usdaw’s website, including in the news section where press releases by the union are often posted (Eds – only on 8th September on the eve of the TUC Congress has it been metioned there).  Instead, the mantle of the champions of workers forced onto zero-hours contracts has fallen onto others. Unite who have some membership in Sports Direct have called for negotiations with management over the issue. Both Unite and the TUC issued press releases fairly sharply, as did UCU and Unison amongst other unions, all of which appeared on their website as a clear indication to members of the need to campaign on this issue.

One of the main voices campaigning on the ground on the issue is Youth Fight for Jobs, which organises unemployed youth, students and young workers, a number of whose activists have been on such contracts. YFJ activists featured in much of the media after the initial revelations were made, and organised a number of protests up and down the country to name and shame employers, as well as leafleting the staff in such workplaces to let them know their rights at work and advocating joining a union.

Usdaw needs to support such actions by young people as part of winning the millions of retail workers who aren’t members of a trade union to join us. As pointed out in the proposition on the living wage at this years ADM, stunts, protests and rallies taking up issues affecting Usdaw members and retail and distribution as a whole. On this and the wider issue of underemployment, a good starting point would be for Usdaw should back the Youth Fight for Jobs campaign and publicise its activities to all reps.

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