FT: “Zero hours contracts numbers leap” – how about the EU’s decent work promotion?

On 8 April 2013 FT warned of the sharp increase in “zero hours” contracts in the UK (front page and p.3). These contracts, where the worker works only when there is a specific demand, and has therefore no stable salary, no contribution to benefits, and no redundancy pay, in addition to no clue about when he/she will be working next, used to be the privilege of unskilled workers.

They are now increasingly affecting “white-collar professionals including hospital doctors, lecturers and journalists”.

Apparently, the “total number of employees on zero hours contracts rose by 25% over the course of 2012 and by more than 150 % since the autumn of 2005, according to the British Labour Force survey, as employers embrace the ultimate flexible contract”. (Bold is mine)

It seems that the crisis is pushing employers to extremes, but the social effects of this reality should concern us all. This is leading to a “war over decent jobs” that is generating increased social inequality and frustration.

It is now not enough to be qualified, one will have to use all sorts of tactics (contacts, accepting unpaid work – “voluntary work” or unpaid internships) in order to secure an interesting job, let alone one with decent working conditions (offering stability, a fair retribution, contributions to – increasigly reduced – social services including health and unemployment help) … . This, of course, will be the privilege of the already privileged – or who could otherwise afford to work for 6 months or more without remuneration in order to secure a first job, a transition from unemployment to a different sector of activity or to recycle oneself after, say, a long maternity break?

Since 2006 the European Commission has compromised to several steps to promote social justice and decent work both within the EU and in its development cooperation with third countries, in cooperation with the ILO, as recently stated: http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—dgreports/—exrel/documents/genericdocument/wcms_195510.pdf .

It seems that we definitely need those policies urgently in Europe, and certainly in the UK. Another question is whether EU Member States will allow for these policies to be prioritary. In the light of the recent debate over the European Social Fund coming budget, it seems that unfortunately promoting social justice within the EU itself is not a priority for the EU Council. We will have to assume the consequences of this (cf post of 16 April 2013 re recent data over social situation in the EU).