POLITICS

Zero-Hours Contract Case Study: 'Your Boss Has The Advantage'

05/08/2013 15:25 BST
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Zero-hours contracts are growing in number, with around 1m people believed to be employed in this controversial way.

The contracts result in employees agreeing to work as and when required, with no guaranteed hours or benefits.

So what's it like to work under a zero-hours contract?

HuffPost UK spoke to 43-year-old Peter, a restaurant worker whose move onto a zero-hours contract has left him effectively jobless since January after he was told that there were "no shifts available".

Having spent three years unemployed, Peter had successfully got a job as a kitchen porter in a restaurant last December. Although he discussed working full time with his boss, Peter was given a contract to sign that was actually a zero-hours agreement, which he wasn't aware of. "I trusted them - and anyway, I didn't know what a zero-hours would mean," he says.

Peter's manager told him that he would not get paid for six weeks, but that he could request a payment in advance. After three weeks he felt confident enough to approach his manager for some money, but this was refused.

The manager, Peter claims, went back on his original promise and told him that if he wanted money he would he should go to a payday lender.

Peter was effectively powerless to get money from his manager in advance as he lacked the rights of a full-time worker.

Peter was sure that he had seen the entitlement to payment in advance in his contract, so went to HR to try and get a response from them. He got passed between different staff and didn’t get anywhere.

He had to borrow money from his family and knew that he couldn’t keep working for the company unpaid for much longer. He said that he only managed to get by because he could eat at work twice a day.

'YOUR BOSS HAS THE ADVANTAGE'

Nonetheless, his financial situation continued to deteriorate rapidly and he tried to challenge his manager over the contract and his right to an advance. He says his manager showed no concern for him and frustrated he left the office.

"Zero-hours contracts give your boss the advantage. They have no obligations and it's one-way traffic. It allows them to totally exploit staff and employer as many students possible. They had 30 people on the books when they only needed 5 at a time," Peter tells the Huffington Post UK.

'You give your boss all you can and they are empowered to turn around and say: 'I don't care what you've done'. There's no fairness, no gentleman's agreement involved. You're just waiting for the phone call."

When Peter next got in touch with the manager to ask about future shifts, he says his manager said they had no work for him and would get in touch when they did.

Peter tells HuffPost UK that he was unable to work for other companies in the meantime, in order to try and financially sustain himself, as his bosses wanted him on board with them, under his zero-hours contract, exclusively - despite not giving him any paid work. "If you work for other companies and can't meet the requirements, you risk getting blacklisted in the industry," he explains.

After five weeks of work as a porter, Peter has been without work since January, after their curt excuse that no shifts were available.

Peter finally received his P45 but was so demoralised by the debacle that he didn't have the heart to chase his bosses for underpaying him by £100.

Months later, he's still looking for work but will certainly be wary of any zero-hour clauses snuck into future contracts.