I, or more accurately we, run our own business (watch out for the shameless plug…) Neon Dawn Ltd. Our working arrangements are pretty flexible and we often have to sign contracts and Non Disclosure Agreements (NDAs), and we’re fine with that.
I get to do the really exciting job of reading through these documents and querying anything that looks a bit dubious. Mostly this is leads to a few mutually acceptable changes and we just get on with the project, once the contracts are agreed and signed. But not always….
So a few weeks ago a contract was hurled in my general direction. It turned out to be a zero hours contract. Not something I’d ever seen before as we offer and accept contracts on behalf of our company and not as individuals.
I was curious. I mean, who hasn’t heard a politician railing against the evil that is zero hours contracts? Were they as bad as the sweaty browed politicos made out? Were they unfair to the workers or just a way to offer people a flexible working arrangement? I endeavoured to find out….
Upon reading the contract I was able to make the following conclusions.
- We were being offered no prospect of work, just the possibility of work at some undefined time in the future.
- We would not be able to engage in the same kind of work for any other individual or organisation whilst the contract was in effect.
- We would not able to attempt to sell our services to any individual or organisation that might also be interested in the client’s services. (In effect making us unable to operate as a business).
This kind of raised a red flag or hundred. There was no way on Earth that we’d sign such an inequitable contract. We’d have to be mad as a March Haddock to do so. We pointed out these issues to the potential client and offered our own standard contract, which was refused.
I got the impression that the client wasn’t interested in a fair and professional business relationship but one where they could dictate terms purely to their own advantage. We were glad, and relieved, that our embryonic business relationship with this client had died stillborn.
Now, if I thought that a such a zero hours contract was unacceptable to me and my business then why should I expect anyone else to accept these ridiculously unfair terms? Why should an individual be expected to promise to only work for one employer who doesn’t commit to ever give them any work? This is worse than slavery. Okay, it probably didn’t involve whips or being sold at auction but it wasn’t far off.
Why this extreme view of a zero hours contract? The answer is money, something that we all need to live. To pay the rent, the mortgage, pay the utilities and buy a little food. Yet our society seems happy to accept that certain groups must live in constant fear of not being able to survive because they are forced to accept these zero hours contracts. Would you like to live like that? Never knowing how much you might earn. Fearing the knock at the door because you couldn’t afford to pay the rent? That’s not a recipe for a happy life.
Some might be thinking: “He claims to be a Right Winger. Surely he loves the idea of capitalist oppression of the proletariat?” Sorry to dissapoint you but the truth is that I don’t. (Shock Horror).
As a Right Winger, I not only believe in the idea of self reliance and taking responsibility for your own actions BUT in pragmatism as well. I try to accept humanity as it is. I don’t think that people are angels or devils. Nobody is 100% evil or 100% good (I wish some Lefty types would realise that but they do seem to have a black and white view of the world which makes them dangerous, well that’s what I think.) Nor are we born with an innate sense of right and wrong. We have to be taught that abusing the weak and vulnerable isn’t usually approved of by today’s society, generally speaking.
This pragmatism is why I find zero hours contracts so damnable. I wouldn’t sign such a contract because I value myself and my work too highly. I’m lucky, I can pick and choose who my company works for, not everyone has that luxury. People who find themselves forced into signing these contracts are going to be resentful and angry. They’re also going to get hungry and even homeless. Now that’s a recipe for civil disobedience, a polite way of saying riot, and I’d have to say that my sympathies would be with the victims of this infamy.
So my advice to any passing political type is to make all zero hours contracts illegal tout de suite (that’s French for right away) and nip this potentially society damaging concept in the bud. Alternatively, start investing heavily in police riot training and equipment. You might just need it to keep the revolting masses from breaking down the door to No. 10 Downing Street.
P.S. Just in case anyone was wondering, our company doesn’t use zero hours contracts and never will.
P.P.S. I recently attended a hustings where our sitting MP stated clearly that zero hours contracts, with exclusivity clauses, were illegal. I wonder if anyone has told the British business community?