Imagine being a single parent struggling on benefits. You look long and hard for some sort of stable job – anything that will pay the bills and feed your child. You’re finally hired. It’s on a zero hours contract, but no matter. At least it’s something.
Kelly, this young woman’s father, recalls how overjoyed his daughter was to finally be given the opportunity to get back on her feet.
“She was so happy when she first got the job; so over the moon,” Kelly explains. “She was given a certain number of hours every week while she was in training to be a health worker.
“But when she completed her training, they almost stopped giving her any hours – three hours here, three hours there.
“They would call her one day and ask if she could come in the next day. As a single parent, my daughter would tell them, ‘Let me just see if my father can look after his granddaughter.’ Then they’d text her back and tell her not to bother, that they’ve found someone else.”
Now, Kelly says, his daughter is completely distraught.
“She wanted so badly to get off unemployment benefits; she wanted to work so she could pay her own bills,” he explains.
“But they’ve put her in a position where she doesn’t know whether she’s working or not working. I can’t believe an organisation can behave in this way to people. And we allow it to happen. It’s just crazy.”
Kelly was one of the many people who called in to BBC Radio 5 this morning (April 1) to tell their personal stories about life on a zero hours contract – an exploitative work arrangement that’s exploded in popularity under the coalition government’s watch.
Now, it is estimated that there 1.8m people on such contracts. And figures indicate that these contracts are being used on an increasingly exponential scale – of the new jobs created over the past year, one in seven have been zero hours jobs.
In response to what Ed Miliband called an “epidemic” of zero hours contracts, Labour announced today (April 1) that, if elected, it would take decisive action to stop this epidemic.
The party has committed to a ban of the exploitative contracts, and will guarantee anyone working regular hours for 12 weeks the right to a regular contract.
Labour will also give workers on zero-hours contracts new legal rights that will bar employers from forcing workers to be available at all hours. They will likewise prohibit the common practice of cancelling shifts at short notice without compensation.
It’s just the sort of measure that would help Steven’s son, who lives in Wigan and works in a meat-packing factory on a zero hours contract.
Steven explains what his son — who was made redundant years ago and has struggled to find regular work since — is put through on a daily basis.
“He doesn’t drive, so he has to wake up at half past 3 in the morning, walk three quarters of an hour to the other side of Wigan to catch a bus so he’s at the factory at 6,” Steven says.
“He gets there and they say ‘Oh sorry, we should have rung you up, there’s no work today.’
Steven, who has just now retired, calls his son’s situation “disgraceful”.
“I would never want to start my working career now in this day and age,” Steven adds.
Impossible to live
But John, a caterer, has no other option – working in Cameron’s day and age of insecure work and poverty pay is his only choice.
“You don’t know how much money you’re going to earn,” he told BBC Radio 5 this morning. “You see your rota for the week – it’s 30 hours and you think, ‘Yeah I can get by on that.’
“And then you end up getting only 25 hours after you get quarter hours, half hours lopped off here and there.
John explains just how impossible it is to live on a zero hours contract.
“You just can’t budget to pay your bills up all the way to the next month,” he says. “I can’t say to the local authority, ‘I’m only going to be able to pay you 90 of the 105 pound of council tax because I’ve lost a few hours at work.’ They’re not interested.”
Linda*, a council worker on a zero hours contract, explains how even the simplest choices become unbearable while living in the nightmarish limbo of irregular hours.
“My oven blew up yesterday and I had to think long and hard about buying a new one,” she said, not knowing whether next month’s earnings would be enough to cover her basic expenses.
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey condemned the suffering that so many millions of workers are put through under such exploitative work arrangements.
“Zero hours contracts mean misery for workers and their families, stuck on this hand-to-mouth existence, not knowing from one week to next whether there’ll be any work , let alone enough to cover the bills,” he said.
“This insecurity has exploded on David Cameron’s watch where from social care to high street big names we have an economy built on shaky jobs and chronic low pay,” he added. “This is not an economic plan to be proud of but economic pain to be ashamed of.”
Still, McCluskey argued that today’s news of Labour’s clampdown on zero hours contracts meant that, on the eve of a general election, there’s still hope.
“Labour is absolutely right to take action against insecure work,” he said. “Millions of families just getting by will at last see someone on their side, and a Labour Party determined to build an economy where we can all reap the rewards.”
*Name has been changed to protect identity
Recently, the buses and trains are at a standstill, clinics are empty, children are absent from school… it’s not a script from a horror movie it’s a revolt involving tens of thousands of public sector workers across Northern Ireland who took strike action to oppose the cuts planned in the Stormont House Agreement and Assembly budget.
GMB members joined in the action on the day with workers in Translink, (the public transport company), Health Service workers, school support staff and Northern Ireland Civil Service workers on strike.
Members are angry at the Government proposals to borrow £700 million to ‘invest’ in redundancies that will see upwards of 20,000 jobs cut from the public sector. Northern Ireland’s public sector is already under serious pressure and many staff are under considerable stress, hospital wards and ED departments are already operating at dangerously low staffing levels. The Stormont House Agreement will also see the implementation of stringent welfare reforms in exchange for the fiscal power to determine corporation tax. The rate favoured by the politicians is 12.5% in line with the Republic of Ireland, however this policy, if adopted will see the block grant decimated to repay the subsidy to big corporations back to treasury. Big companies that already do everything in their power to avoid paying taxes will be given a hand out at the expense of our schools, hospitals, transport and community services.
Strike action was complemented on the day with mass rallies and marches taking place throughout Northern Ireland. Belfast saw crowds of around 10,000 march through the city centre for a rally at the City Hall addressed by Denise Walker GMB Organiser and by GMB young member and president of the Union of Students Ireland, Rebecca Hall. Rebecca called the politians irresponsible for gambling with the future of our young people to give big businesses a tax cut. She led the crowd in chants of ‘Shame on Them’ Denise said ‘We are fighting for our communities, our rights to a decent life, decent education and decent health service. We are fighting to protect our public transport system and not just the jobs that make up the public sector but the vital services that rely on these jobs being done. We are fighting too for a strong private sector which will only too soon see the toxic effect of huge job loses in the public sector.
In Derry/Londonderry, Jim Donley, GMB Organiser addressed the rally at the Guildhall. Jim on the subject of the rebalancing exercise of the public sector in Northern Ireland told the crowd, “In truth the rebalancing they talk about is one of zero hour contracts, minimum wages, pound shops and food banks as the thousands of working poor continue to grow poorer
“The message to Stormont and Westminster was clear – ‘hands off our Public Services'”
As the general election campaign heats up, prime minister David Cameron made a startling claim on Monday night (March 30) – under his watch, he says, 1,000 jobs were created every day, an accomplishment he pledges to continue if a Conservative government were to be elected in May.
Sounds great, but just how much does this claim hold up under scrutiny?
Basic arithmetic does indeed point to an average of 1,000 jobs created a day over the term of the coalition government – divide the 1.8m jobs created since 2010 by the number of days in five years and the figure is more or less accurate.
But this gross simplification disguises certain inconvenient truths that the Tories are trying their best to hide as the election nears.
Take, for example, that the rising employment numbers have not been accompanied by an attendant rise in wages. In fact, the situation is just the opposite – as more and more people are funnelled into often low-paying work, wages have plummeted over the past five years.
Since inflation has outpaced earnings for all these years, the coalition government has presided over a labour market in which, no matter how hard you work, the work simply doesn’t pay.
The explosive rise in the use of food banks demonstrates that 1,000 jobs a day is no antidote to poverty. In fact, last year, a House of Commons Library analysis found that in-work poverty had exploded over the term of the coalition government – by almost 60 per cent. Now, if you are below the breadline, you are just as likely to be in work as out.
The number of people on zero hours contracts, in which employers are not obliged to provide workers a minimum number of hours, has quadrupled since 2010, further fuelling an economy based on insecure, low-paying work.
And then there’s the growing dominance of self-employment – of the 1,000 jobs created each day since 2010, a 400 of them have been in this category. We are now looking at a jobs landscape in which self-employment is at its highest level in almost half a century.
While a nation of self-employed workers may call to mind a society of bright-eyed, innovative entrepreneurs, the reality is far different – the vast majority of newly created self-employed jobs are in industries such as taxi driving, construction and carpentry.
Wages for self-employed workers are half that of full-time employees, and have fallen by almost a quarter since the financial crisis.
Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner argues that Cameron’s latest jobs pledge is nothing but a campaign promise without substance, designed only to make headlines.
“David Cameron’s claims will ring hollow with the millions struggling to make ends meet in low paid insecure work,” he said.
“He plucks figures out of the air, but is silent about the need for decent jobs that pay a decent wage, because on his watch we’ve seen a shift to a low waged, low skilled economy where zero hour contracts have become the employment model of choice for many employers.
“We need commitments for decent, secure jobs not the empty out of touch rhetoric of David Cameron.”
Workers at the Northampton plant of one of the world’s largest packaging firms have begun a 48-hour strike over the dismissal of two Unite shop stewards.
Unite members at Smurfit Kappa, who had previously been working to rule, walked out at midnight (April 1) calling for their colleagues to be immediately reinstated.
Speaking from a noisy picket line this morning Unite regional officer Mick Orpin said, “significantly at twelve o’clock last night the whole factory walked out and it’s really humbling to see so many people out here today.
“We have support from colleagues across the country, Ireland and the world,” he said, “we have messages of support coming in to us every few minutes.”
Orpin feels management at the paper packaging company have been acting “in a manner more suited to industrial relations of the 19th century.”
He firmly believes the strike action by more than one hundred Unite members at the plant will force bosses back to the negotiating table following “a direct attack on the union and our representatives.”
Unite claim the two dismissed staff – senior steward Geoff Butcher and deputy senior steward Paul Metcalfe – were sacked after they “stood up to the company over ‘race to the bottom’ contracts and alleged incorrect bonus payments.”
This morning, also speaking from the picket line, Butcher told UNITElive he was “angry and amazed” at the firm’s stance and warned bosses that Unite’s resolve was strong.
“We had a mass meeting on Sunday and I would think around 80 per cent of the workforce were there. That filled us with a hell of lot of confidence and we have had a lot of people turning up outside the factory door today.”
Local Unite officers say the strike action could be escalated to a further four day stoppage unless the sacked representatives are allowed back to work.
Organised by the South West TUC, the event runs from July 17th to 19th in Dorset, with Billy Bragg making a welcome return. Also appearing are 2-Tone legends The Beat, folk singers Seth Lakeman and Naomi Bedford, and socialist R & B favourites Thee Faction.
Speakers on the Sunday include TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady, TUC president Leslie Manasseh, Angela Eagle MP and Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner.
Jonny and The Baptists, Dana Immanuel and Irish punks Neck play in the marquee on Saturday night, with all-female indie ban The Tuts, Chris T-T and the Hoodrats and Curtis Eller’s American Circus performing on Friday night.
The event remembers the six farmworkers who, in 1834, were transported to Australia after forming a trade union to campaign for a pay rise.
Details of tickets are here.
1 million people have fallen off the electoral roll since the government changed the way we register to vote back in September. Many won’t even know.
If you’re a one in the million then you’ll miss out in the most important election in our times.
But there’s still time to make sure that get your vote. The cut-off date for registration is 20 April. That gives you 20 days from today to sign up.
The good news is that you can now register online. It takes just minutes using Unite’s Votebooster tool. Go to http://votebooster.org/register/unite. All you need is your National Insurance number (find it on your payslip!).
Your vote is your power. When you don’t use it, you’re easier for politicians to ignore. 9m women did not vote in 2010 and have been hardest hit by the coalition’s welfare and tax cuts, with 70 per cent falling on them.
Over half of young people also stayed away from the polls last time, so the coalition put older voters first — hiking university tuition fees, axing the Education Maintence Allowance (EMA) and shutting youth clubs.
Veteran anti-austerity campaigner Harry Leslie Smith summed it up perfectly when he said: “If you don’t vote, your future will be handed to the 1 per cent.”
Hardworking families and the most vulnerable in our society have been ill-served by this government. Five years of austerity have caused misery to millions. Any government that doles out tax cuts to the rich when foodbank use has soared by a shocking 163 per cent is out-of-touch with the lives of ordinary people struggling with the worst cost of living crisis in living memory.
Now is the time to ‘seize your destiny’, as Harry said when he addressed a packed crowd at the University of Manchester last month (March 11).
He added: “This will be the only opportunity to turn things around before it’s too late. Too many people are suffering today in the country. They’re being ignored because of the mere fact that they’re poor, and no one’s listening to them. Austerity has cut their lifestyles, when they’re living standards should have been increasing.”
There’s no denying that voter apathy and low election turnout are serious problems in British politics today. After all, only 65 per cent of the electorate voted at the last general election – but it wasn’t our experience when we went on the road.
Over 15 days, the #NoVoteVoice roadshow travelled across England and Wales in a red double-decker bus registering missing voters. We met some amazing people, from workers at the Ty-phoo tea plant in the Wirral to students at Manchester University. Listen to what they had to say and be inspired to vote on 7 May:
(See more here).
But we don’t just need you to register — we need your friends, family and work colleagues registered too. So please spread the word. Go to the Unite website to download a campaign pack and start registering colleagues in your workplace.
Don’t think you can get to the polls on 7 May? Then apply for a postal vote. You can download the form to apply by post here. Completed forms needed to be posted to your local electoral registration office before the 21 April deadline.
The move is believed to have been provoked by recent strikes in the NHS, together with campaigns against zero hours contracts and a demand for the Living Wage.
A spokesperson for the Conservative Party said: “Trade unions have long been a thorn in the side of businesses, denting their profits with excessive wage claims of one or two per cent.
“Workers should be grateful to have a job at all – even if it’s low-paid and insecure – and as our election campaign is funded almost entirely by big business, we think it is only right we give them something in return. We have decided to serve them up the heads of general secretaries on a plate.”
In response, Labour leader Ed Miliband said: “Blurblbymumblemeblugrh.” USi understands this muffling was because he was speaking from inside the pocket of the unions. Or was it the inside the pocket of Alex Salmond? Or did he have a mouthful of bacon sandwich?
Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said: “If it wasn’t for us standing up to the Tories, Congress House would have already been razed to the ground.”
UKIP leader Nigel Farage said: “I hate trade unions more than foreigners … *hic* … and I really, really, really hate foreigners, let me tell you.”
Green Party leader Natalie Bennett said: “We like trade unions, unless they’re in Brighton.”
SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon said: “We don’t like unions. We prefer independents.”
Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood said: “Given the choice between union and league, we’d choose union, so vote for us.”
A new report published by the TUC says workers have been experiencing a significant increase in stress, which in some cases has led to mental ill health, as a result of the impact of austerity on their work and home lives.
Although there is greater public awareness of mental health, the number of workers affected by mental health issues is enormous, says the TUC in Good practice in workplace mental health.
Many employers do not deal with mental health issues and this may lead to many people losing their job, and even worse, failing to find new work as a result of the stigma associated with mental health issues.
Good practice in workplace mental health is based on a seminar held to share good practice examples from unions in different sectors and the experiences of delegates. It focussed on preventing problems arising as well as solving them positively when they did occur.
In one example, Usdaw negotiated with a call centre employer to train workplace representatives, set up mental health first aid, teach members to spot the early signs of a problem, stop it getting worse, help sufferers to recover sooner and reduce the stigma attached to mental health problems.
The report concludes by identifying problems that may need to be addressed in a workplace, and measures that can be taken to make a workplace ‘mentally healthy’, including:
· training for union representatives and middle managers
· early referral to Occupational Health
· recognising gender aspects of mental health
· recognising the business case for positive mental health
· conducting stress risk assessments.
TUC Disability policy officer Peter Purton said: “People with mental ill health continue to have amongst the lowest employment rates for disabled people according to the Labour Force Survey. The evidence suggests that mental ill health can be linked to workplace stress, which makes it particularly concerning that recent surveys have reported a rise in the incidence of stress at work.
“But the good news is that trade unions are finding ways to prevent mental health problems arising, or to work with employers to enable a person with a mental health condition to continue in work.”