A Minimum 16 Hours for all workers | Antidote to Zero Hour ContractsOn December 4, 2019 by Raul Dinwiddie
I’m just back, fresh from the National Conference
of USDAW, the fifth biggest union in the country. Where I proposed a proposition that I’d written
in favour of a life changing policy for the working class, in my view. And that is that
instead of insecure work, that there should be a law introduced to oblige all employers
to offer an absolute minimum of a 16 hour a week contract to every worker who wants it.
With the added qualification that if a worker wants fewer hours than that they can negotiate
that in the presence of their union representative. Right now we’re cursed by casual labour. One
in 10 workers suffer some form of insecure work – 3.2 million people across Britain.
About half of those are on zero hour contracts, others on short-term and the likes of shorter
contracts – 8, 10, 12 hours a week. That deprives workers of a decent income, deprives them
of any stability, where they’re at the beck and call of the employer to come into work,
disrupt their sleeping habits, disrupt their family and social life according to so-called
“business needs”. It also of course is accompanied by low pay
– that’s precisely one of the reasons for such insecure contracts to drive down pay.
For instance, even three years ago the TUC’s figures showed that the average weekly wage
for all workers was £479 a week but for those on zero hour contracts it was £188. Thus
an indication of the terrible deficit on hourly pay as a result of this job insecurity. The policy which was actually to my delight
passed unanimously at the conference of about 1100-12000 delegates at USDAW’s conference
– the policy of a minimum 16 hour contract for all workers who want it is something that
would transform lives. It will qualify people for working tax credit,
if they’re in a couple because that’s what you have to work. It would qualify people
for sick pay and for national insurance contributions from their employers – especially when it’s
linked to the demand for a £10 minimum wage. It would also guarantee some form of stable
income, stable job patterns of shift patterns and would begin to alter the balance of forces
so that workers had some control over their working lives. Instead of being subjected
to the dictatorship of capital. The dictatorship of senior management over insecure workers. I think it’s a policy which has met its time.
As a policy which now needs to be fought for in other trade unions, and of course as a
policy – which has a bit of a history – I first tentatively suggested in the book “Break
the Chains” then put it forward and got adopted as a Scottish Socialist Party policy. But
the huge difference now is that it’s been adopted by a mass organisation the 430,000-strong
USDAW, fifth biggest union in the country. It’s a great breakthrough for workers potentially,
we need to get it adopted by other unions – and to fight for it so as to change the
lives of working people radically.