Mike Hedges outlines some of the employment practices affecting people at work in Wales.
Whilst much of the recent debate on employment practices has been on zero hours contracts unfortunately this is not the only “flexible” practice used by employers. Others include short guaranteed hours, split shifts, annualised hours and using contractors. As well as the traditional short term and temporary contracts there has been a growth in the number of these “new employment” practices. This is described as flexible working by those who support it but, by those of us who think it is a backward step, it is a return to the work insecurity of the pre war era.
This week on Click on Wales
This week on Click on Wales, we hear from four Welsh politicians on the biggest issues affecting employment, for better or for worse, in Wales.
An assembly member from each of the parties represented in the National Assembly for Wales will offer their view, ranging from zero hours contracts and new employment practices to the impact of changing tax thresholds.
The problems of definition and of allegations of a
Zero hour contracts
There has been a large increase recently in jobs on “’zero-hours’ “contracts, Zero-hour contracts came into regular use during the 1990s and they have grown in the current period of economic uncertainty. Many companies especially in the retail and hospitality industries, but increasing numbers in other sectors such as care, are taking on staff on ‘zero-hours’ contracts – that is, where people agree to be available for work as and when required, but have no guaranteed hours or times of work. Zero-hours contracts provides employers with a pool of people who are ‘on-call ‘and thus puts the all the financial risk on to the employee whose income is not guaranteed.
Short guaranteed hours
A variation on zero hour contracts but there is a guarantee of as little as one hour a day and when people arrive at work they then discover how long the shift is going to be. Starting at 8:00 am you may finish at 9:00 am or have to work until late in the evening depending on workload and the number of people who are available that day. This is a highly disruptive work pattern because you are unable to make plans for any part of the day until the day itself. One concern is that if zero hour contracts get banned this will be their replacement.
Split shifts or staggered hours
A split shift is a type of shift-work schedule where the work day is split into two or more parts which may be equal but are not necessarily so. This kind of pattern is common for people working in areas where there are peaks and troughs in demand such bus drivers and bar staff. It is generally not desired by employees because it involves their availability over long periods and the time in between shifts can be lost traveling to and from work. Whilst this working pattern can be beneficial for some with child care or other caring responsibilities it can cause problems for those who live some distance away from their workplace and obviously it is highly disruptive to the employees’ social and family life.
The employee has to work a certain number of hours over the year but there is flexibility about when they work .This system of annualized hours offers an answer to demand unpredictability and was first used in the UK in the early 1980s. Since then many organizations from a range of sectors including the public sector have adopted the principles and applied them. One of the advantages to the employer is that it saves on overtime payments during busy periods but conversely the disadvantages to the employee is lost overtime and the working of anti social hours without any financial reward.
Contract working or agency working
Whilst this has been common in areas such as construction and ICT where workers have been employed on short term, and usually highly paid contracts it has now expanded into other parts of the economy.
This includes the using of staff employed via an agency where most employment responsibilities are then with the agency. After twelve weeks in the same role working for the same employer, agency workers are entitled to the same employment and working conditions as permanent staff. Crucially however agency workers are not entitled to benefits, such as occupational sick pay, redundancy pay and health insurance, the right to claim for unfair dismissal, and minimum notice of redundancy where they are working. This means that agency staff are much easier to dismiss than directly employed staff because they are employed by the agency not the company they are working at.
In conclusion, to employers the various forms of flexible employment practice reduces risk whilst increasing profits and competitiveness. For the employee it can mean an uncertainty of income and a highly disrupted life outside of work. The one thing missing from most of the organizations using these employment practices is a trade union to represent and protect the workers.