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In March, on the blog of the West Midlands New Economics Group, there was a post about the work of Pat Conaty and others on behalf of ‘the precariat’, the self-employed, often working in service industries such as fast food, for security firms on temporary, even zero-hours contracts, or in the so-called ‘gig economy’.
The precariat includes many workers who used to have skilled or semi-skilled but relatively well-paid and secure jobs, under-employed graduates, working in insecure jobs requiring a much lower education level, migrant workers, and people from ethnic minority communities. Benefits the self-employed cannot access relate to holidays, sick pay, maternity and paternity leave.
He and his colleagues are editing the final draft of two reports:
The TUC wanted a short report of about 25 pages. The publication date has not yet been decided. One option is to do this conjunction with their annual congress.
The longer report includes more new ways of tackling this problem and has a fuller set of recommendations including one on Universal Basic Income. It will be published by Co-ops UK and the Co-op College in September.
In May, the Office for National Statistics estimated the rapidly rising number of employment contracts (see graph below) that do not guarantee a minimum number of hours. Its estimare is drawn from its twice-yearly survey of businesses, combined with estimates from the Labour Force Survey (LFS) of households, which includes the number of people who report that they are on a “zero-hours contract” in their main job.
This report, first published in March 2017, includes the latest figures from the LFS for October to December 2016 as well as new estimates from the survey of businesses for May and November 2016, respectively.
The results from the November 2016 survey of businesses indicated that there were 1.7 million contracts that did not guarantee a minimum number of hours, where work had actually been carried out under those contracts. This represented 6% of all employment contracts.
People on “zero-hours contracts” are more likely to be young, part-time, women, or in full-time education, compared with other people in employment. On average, someone on a “zero-hours contract” usually works 25 hours a week. 32% on a “zero-hours contract” want more hours, with most wanting them in their current job, as opposed to a different job which offers more hours.
The Labour Force Survey defines “zero hours contracts” as “where a person is not contracted to work a set number of hours, and is only paid for the number of hours that they actually work”. The LFS counts people who report that their main employment is a “zero-hours contract” and who are aware that their contract allows for them to be offered no hours.
Pat’s heartfelt words were quoted “God knows something has to be done for zero hour workers, growing ranks of exploited self-employed and those working all hours of the week in the gig economy to make ends meet”. He lists four guiding objectives and recommendations for uniting self-employed workers in the 2016 publication: ‘Not Alone’:
- 1. Recognition of the growing self-employed workforce, by developing organising strategies for self-employed workers, bringing together trade unions and the cooperative sector and operating with the support of national union centres such as the TUC
2. The development of organising strategies will involve consideration of key priorities for action, including:
- Primary sectors, such as the creative industries, care services and the green economy
- Primary services, such as a credit union for freelancers, provision of micro-insurance and related services such as debt collection, tax accounting and legal advice, the scope for platform co-operatives and sources of capital for cooperative business development.
The third and fourth advocate government action:
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) should identify how to create a voice for self-employed workers at the heart of government, learning from the way in which wider small business has successfully become recognized over time, in business policy, regulatory interventions and commissioning design. The Treasury and Financial Conduct Authority should develop an appropriate regulatory treatment for mutual guarantee societies; and the Department for Work and Pensions should explore the potential for business and employment co-operatives for people on benefit.