One of the world’s largest fast food chains, McDonald’s, will now offer its 115,000-strong UK workforce – all previously on zero hours contracts – guaranteed minimum hours on fixed contracts, with 1 in 5 workers agreeing to take up the offer.
The move is a major departure for the fast food chain which has stubbornly defended its use of zero-hours contracts even in the face of widespread criticism. McDonald’s said it changed its mind after complaints from workers who said they couldn’t get mobile phone contracts, mortgages or loans because they did not have any guaranteed employment.
McDonald’s has been trialling the fixed hours contracts in 23 sites and now will be adding 50 more sites before offering contracts to all workers later this year. Workers have the option of taking up a contract guaranteeing 4 hours, 15 hours or 30 hours each week.
Although it is a welcome change of heart that will benefit thousands of workers, it still leaves much of its workforce struggling on low pay, and it will do little to stem the ever-rising tide of insecure work.
Insecure work on the rise
Shock new figures from the TUC published yesterday (April 26) show that in five years, 3.5m people will be in one form of insecure work or another, such as on a zero-hours contract, in temp or agency work, or in low-paid self-employment.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady called on the next government to take action to help insecure workers.
“MPs aren’t the only ones feeling insecure in their jobs right now,” he said. “If nothing changes, hundreds of thousands more Brits could be stuck in insecure work, being treated like disposable labour. That’s the same as thirteen extra Sports Directs, or the entire working population of Sheffield.
“Paying rent and bills can be a nightmare when you don’t know how much you’ve got coming in each month,” she added. “And planning childcare is impossible when you’re constantly at the beck and call of employers.
“The next government will need to tackle this problem head on. Every party manifesto must have real commitments to crack down on zero-hours contracts and bogus self-employment. And agency workers should always get the going rate for the job.”
The TUC’s analysis also found that insecure work is costing the Exchequer £4bn each year. This is because people on zero-hours contracts or in low-paid self-employment bring in far less in tax and are much more likely to need in-work benefits.
On average, those on zero-hours contracts earn only £7.25 an hour, while the typical employee earns more than £11 an hour.
Agencies who often supply the UK’s army of insecure labour are known too for dodgy practices that further exploit workers.
One of these agencies, Transline, which supplies workers for Sports Direct, was criticised by MPs in a parliamentary inquiry for its legally questionable practice of offering workers pre-paid debit cards to pay their wages, from which they would deduct a £10 monthly fee.
The agency has persisted in refusing to pay Sports Direct warehouse workers a portion of the back pay still owed to them after Unite revealed that they were illegally being paid below the minimum wage.
And just yesterday (April 26) it emerged that Transline was preparing itself for insolvency – Unite has argued that the company must not be allowed to dodge its responsibilities and must pay its workers their due.
“The current uncertainty surrounding Transline’s future is yet more evidence of the need for Sports Direct to wean itself off its overreliance on temporary agency workers at its Shirebrook warehouse,” said Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner.
“Sports Direct must urgently move to put agency workers onto permanent contracts to bring security to the workforce and certainty to the business.
“Transline must not be allowed to dodge its responsibilities or the back pay it owes for non-payment of the minimum wage at Sports Direct,” he added. “It must continue to pay the wages of the tens of thousands of low paid agency workers it currently employs across the UK.
“A failure to do so would be the final insult for the many workers it has exploited through its draconian work practices.”
While Unite welcomes McDonald’s moving away from the use of zero-hours contracts – other high street chains have in the last few years done the same, including Sports Direct for its shop staff, Wetherspoons, and Everyman cinema – stronger legislation is needed to stop rampant and growing exploitation.
“Thanks to the tireless work of campaigners and trade unions like Unite, companies like Wetherspoons and Sports Direct are seeing the impact of their decisions to exploit workers on their businesses and made to think again about their use of zero hours contracts,” Turner noted.
“Increasingly businesses are recognising that they have no place in the modern workplace and are bad for workers, bad for business and bad for the economy. The government should show leadership and follow the lead of government’s like New Zealand by banning zero hours contracts.”
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey agreed.
“With record numbers of people on zero hours contracts, the experience of not knowing if you’ve earned enough to pay the bills has become the unacceptable norm for too many families,” he said.
“People didn’t vote to the leave the European Union to become the sweatshop of Europe. The UK government must act to tackle bogus self-employment and follow the example of its New Zealand counterparts by outlawing zero hours contracts. If we are to build an economy based on decent, secure jobs then insecure working must end.”