Recently published research by sociologists at Cambridge and Oxford paints a dismal picture of the UK’s flexible workforce. Flexible contracts, which give hourly employees a minimal number of guaranteed hours (or none at all, in the case of zero-hour contracts), damage these workers’ home lives and mental health, and force them to beg their bosses for schedule changes or more hours to make ends meet, according to the Independent:
Dr Alex Wood, of Oxford University, embedded himself as a shelf-stacker at a UK supermarket while formerly a researcher at Cambridge’s Department of Sociology, where he experienced first-hand the “toxic” interactions between shop management and workers, witnessing employees “begging” their bosses for additional hours.
“People are put on contracts that are one or two or four hours a week, and it’s not possible for them to survive on this. But often they are hired under the assumption that they will get more hours than that,” he told The Independent. “It creates this situation whereby in order to be able to survive, people have to constantly go up to their manager and ask them for more hours, saying they can’t make ends meet without more hours, asking: ‘Please can you help me.’ Then if and when the manager helps the workers out, it means they feel very indebted to their manager to work hard.”
Zero-hour contracts have become highly controversial in the UK in the past year, after a scandal at a large retailer led to some major employers moving to abandon the practice. The Taylor Review, a government report on employment practices in the modern economy, recommended in its findings earlier this summer that workers in zero-hour arrangements be entitled to request guaranteed hours after working for their employer for 12 months, and should be paid a higher minimum wage for non-guaranteed hours. Ireland is also moving to regulate zero-hour contracts in a way that appears likely to make them very rare.