Precarious work is snow fun and pay

The reality for those on zero hour contracts can be risk your safety getting to work or go without….


The UK has been taking a battering by Storm Emma which saw Central Scotland get a rare red weather warning from the Met Office. The severe red warning lasted for nearly 24hrs and saw many workplaces close down early on Wednesday the 28th of February. A red weather warning means a danger to life and infrastructure. Although the advice from The Scottish Government was to “not travel unless absolutely necessary” it was reported that lorries had jack-knifed and caused travel chaos on the M80 and other main roads in Scotland. Many drivers were stuck on roads over night which is incredibly dangerous. The weather was so severe that a carer lost her life in Glasgow whilst traveling between clients. My thoughts have been with that carers family and friends all day and how horrible that must have been to get that news. All essential work staff have had to carry on as best they could and we should all pay gratitude and reflect on those people during times of adverse weather.

My article is to illuminate an issue which I spend a lot of time researching through university and follow in UK politics; precarious work and zero hour contracts. In extreme circumstances like this, the injustices of zero hour contracts are highlighted for all to see in a much more obvious way. Many of the people who serve your coffee in the morning, pour your pint in the pub or deliver your Amazon Prime parcels may be subjected to some form of precarious working practices. These can include ‘self-employed’ style working arrangements or no guaranteed hours in an employee’s contract. This means the employer does not have to give hours to an employee but the employee can be called upon to work when the business requires them.

What this means is when an employee’s services are not needed, during a snow storm for example, the shift can be cancelled and they will receive no pay. This can happen the day before, an hour before the shift or even during the shift if the workplace isn’t busy. This can cause financial insecurity for an employee and they could fall into in-work poverty which is a growing trend across the UK.

In situations where an organisation closes due to weather, and they employ staff on precarious working arrangements, the staff member will not be paid for any hours they were meant to be working. There could be situations where good bosses offer to pay holidays for the employees that miss out but I would argue that would be the slim minority. If the organisation was to remain closed for a two or three days that could be a huge chunk of an employees wages gone for that week. Employee’s on these types of contracts are not protected by any legislation which would provide them financial security when their hours are cut; even in weather related instances.

If an organisation was to stay open, which many did despite the red weather warning, then the employee has a dilemma. The management would expect the employee to come into work which could be dangerous or result in walking; as public transport would likely be suspended. I saw on the Better Than Zero social media page stories of retail and hospitality staff being threatened with loosing their job if they never came in to work. This seems alien to many workers as that is unthinkable, or at least illegal, to just sack someone on a hoof. Yes, that is true but an employee on a zero hour contract has no guaranteed hours so that employee could just never be scheduled again to work for that organisation. The threat is very daunting and legitimately worrying for many workers on zero hour contracts. It is quite literally an employee having to choose between risking their well-being by traveling to work or going without pay and potentially loosing their job.

It is absolutely outrageous isn’t it?These types of contracts are becoming more and more common in service work and highly ‘student populated’ workplaces. So much so that in 2015-16 they grew in usage by over 300%. They are also being used in highly skilled jobs too such as university lecturing, tutoring and the social care sector.

The saddest thing about this is in Scotland we have a majority in The Scottish Parliament in favour of banning zero hour contracts. All parties, apart from The Scottish Conservative Party, want to ban or at least heavily legislate and regulate their use. Unfortunately, employment law and policy are reserved to Westminster and The Conservative Government will not regulate these types of working arrangements. They will not do anything about them as it fits with their ideology of the free market and neo-liberalism. These contracts give the employer flexibility to reduce their staffing levels in times of low demand and maintain a stable level of productivity. Having flexibility means that formal redundancy processes do not have to be followed and ultimately means profit maximisation for shareholders. We must continue to put pressure on MPs, and other suitable representatives, to debate precarious working practices and regulate these to help combat in-work poverty. These employment practices are unfair and are not conducive to a healthy and equal economy. They also do not give the employee other common workers rights such as adequate paid leave and sick pay. It is also found that workers on zero hour contracts are likely to be on minimum wage, students or part-time workers and are predominately women.

We should not be using people for short term profit gain. These working practices are not ethical or fair and we should be campaigning collectively to see the end of zero hour contracts and precarious work in general.

What do you think?

Tweet me: @BSFGreen

Author: Brian Finlay

I’m a post graduate student studying Human Resource Management at Strathclyde Business School. I was inspired to do this blog, and it’s given name, by people being shocked by me attending a business school in a more corporate type of education setting. I do my research projects around precarious work; service sector; in-work poverty; employment relations and the state welfare and unemployment. I am left political leaning and I am a member of The Scottish Green Party; making me an avid supporter of Scottish Independence on the grounds of a potential decentralised power structure. My blog, which I have finally got the guts to start after finding the time recovering from a nasty ankle operation, will be centred around key HRM academic debates from a left political perspective. I hope you enjoy 🙂

7 thoughts on “Precarious work is snow fun and pay”

  1. Orkney Islands Council employs approximately 1800 people. It has 1000 zero hours contracts issued as at May of last year.I don’t think it has changed much. It is Living Wage employer but what is a Living Wage if you cannot rely on it? And if you are one of the many it employs part time ?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Tesco’s a couple or so years ago stated categorically that they do not have zero hours contracts. This is a case of if you wish to lie successfully then stick to the truth as closely as possible.
    They were actually telling the truth… kind of. In my store when I worked there they did not have zero hours contracts, but they then started to employ the till staff on contracts of 3.75 hours per week. Till staff had the highest turnover, so were the easiest staff to change contracts on. As a till staff member left, the new one would be given this 3.75 hour contract instead of the still low, but better, 11.25 or 15 hour previous contracts. ‘Overtime’ was often offered during peak times but never guaranteed. And of course the till staff we never offered extra hours during slow times.

    In effect, a measly guaranteed 3.75 hrs IS practically a zero hours contract when all is said and done. That kind of contract may suit a school leaver living at home, or a sprightly, reasonably well off pensioner looking to earn some pin money/get out the house kind of thing. But the majority of till workers were middle-aged with mortgages/rent to pay and kids to feed/clothe, and needed guaranteed full-time work to keep a roof over their heads, etc.
    Yet Tesco’s could ‘legitimately’ say, “We don’t do zero hours contracts” and get away with it!
    It makes me wonder how many more companies out there are being equally disingenuous with the truth over their supposed no zero hour contracts policy.
    If this practice were more widely known about, I bet the numbers on these almost, but not quite, zero hour contracts would be huge and probably drown out the figures of those on full zero hour contracts (is full zero hour contracts a contradiction in terms? I’m sure you know what I mean!)

    To add insult to financial injury, I asked a manager why 3.75 hours, and not a straight up 4hrs? 3.75 hours seemed like such an odd figure to me.
    He told me it was to get around Tesco’s being obligated to provide a break. If you worked 4 hrs you were automatically entitled to a 15 minute break by law. At 3.75 hrs Tesco’s were not obligated to provide a break.
    That STILL didn’t make sense to me as all Tesco’s breaks were unpaid, so it’s not as though they were saving any money by this practice.
    The manager further explained that is was also to free up managers time as they didn’t need to spend time arranging and managing rosters of breaks for the till workers.
    My reply was, “What the hell are managers employed for if not to manage?” That didn’t go down too well.

    No wonder they had such a high turnover of till staff. According to my contract of 15 hrs per week, I was a Stock Replenishment Operative (shelf stacker to you and me) but also had to man the tills when a red alert came over the tannoy. This was never longer than about ten minutes or so, and I quite liked being on the tills.
    But I once did a 3.75 hr shift on the tills as overtime. NEVER AGAIN. For ten minutes it’s ok, but nearly four hours without a break is torture. The job may look easy but, when quiet, it’s mind-numbingly tedious. When busy it gets fast, furious and arm/wrist/back breaking.
    At least on groceries it was always fast & furious, so no time for clock watching and tedium. Plus you got to razz around the store keeping your limbs nice and limber. I once clocked up 12 miles on a pedometer during a 3.75 groceries shift, yet I never once felt as tired or as overall achey as I did that time on tills. Also, on groceries, if you clocked on, and entered the shop floor 15 minutes before your shift started, the managers didn’t mind if you took an unofficial break during slack times. You still didn’t get paid for it mind, but at least you could wrangle a break provided you didn’t take the piss. Not so the poor sods on the tills.

    I sincerely hope that the extra costs Tesco’s incurs due to high turnover of till staff, and no doubt other staff too, entirely down to their stingy/no breaks contracts heavily out weighs any savings they make. But I somehow doubt that it does, or else why employ such dodgy practices towards their employees?

    In a sane, caring world there would be better, and more, legislation to prevent such abuses, not less and worse legislation. But we no longer live in a sane world, let alone a caring one.

    All power to your blog. The more people know of the vagaries and insanity of the likes of UC, explotative employment practices, etc, the better.
    Good luck with it all… and grown men are allowed to cry too, not just us women and children.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for this detailed response. I have a huge about of retail experience and aware of Tesco’s practices. You’re right about their obvious shift towards low numerical contracts. This is as bad, if not slightly slightly better, but is to provide the retailer with as much flexibility as possible without being labelled as a ZHC user.

      I continue to keep writing and I am hoping, with help from the public, my blogs can go viral and media start to take interest.

      Thanks again for your support and please subscribe as I will be continuing to blog about these important issues 🙂


      1. Hi x

        I already subscribe to your blog, from about 3 – 4 days ago. You have Mike Sivier’s blog, called Vox Political, to thank for me, and hopefully a few others, subscribing to your one.
        You probably already know of his blog, and that he publized your one on his site. If not, here are the details, as follows:

        I don’t ‘do’ twitter or face book. However, I have emailed various family members/friends a link to your blog, so I’m doing my bit to help publise this blog.

        I’ll confess that my reasons for following your blog are mainly selfish. I’m currently on Carers Allowance with an Income Support top-up, plus claiming Housing Benefit and Council Tax benefit.
        According to my Housing Association my area is due for current claimants being migrated on to UC from July this year.
        I have no idea when I’ll actually be migrated (nor does my local Job Centre Plus) because Carers Allowance or Council Tax benefit doesn’t come under UC, but Income Support and Housing Benifit does. I’m going to be a complicated case according to the Job Centre, so I’ll probably migrated later rather than sooner.
        I hope so! However, I’m a firm believer in information being power, hence my interest in your blog.

        I’ve also religiously been following another blog by Charlotte Hughes, called The Poor Side of Life. Ms Hughes is a most remarkable woman. She’s a poor as a church mouse, green activist who’s been holding a boycott outside Aston-under-Lyne Job Centre for at least the past 4 years, every single Thursday come rain or shine.
        Aston-under-Lyne JC was the first in England to use UC and, by the sounds of it, it’s also one of the most abusive job centres; probably because they’ve had the most practice!
        She, and others, have been handing out leaflets to claimants explaining how to challenge/survive sanctions, handing out food parcels and sign posting people to other organisations for help with housing, etc.
        This real ‘Angel of the North’ has done all of this of her own bat. Like I said, a truly remarkable woman. Even the police like them, refusing to move them on when the JC staff call them out to pester the protesters.

        I’ve no idea if you’ve ever heard of her, or follow her blog. So here’s her link in case you haven’t.


  3. P.S.
    Apologies for calling you X. I’d forgotten your name, and then forgot to look it up before posting. Your site doen’t appear to have an edit button, so I’m stuck with my post calling you X… Opps!


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