THE BLOG

Don't Believe What You Hear About Students and Zero-Hours Contracts

05/05/2015 14:12 BST | Updated 04/05/2016 10:12 BST

When Jeremy Paxman pressed a very hesitant David Cameron to admit that he wouldn't be able to live on a zero-hours contract, the Prime Minister managed to turn his faltering babble into an enthusiastic promotion for how such contracts can work for students looking for part time work.

Zero-hours contracts are in many ways the lifeblood of casual student employment, allowing students the flexibility to fit their hours around busy academic schedules and for their employer to offer as many or few hours as they choose, dependent on the needs of the company, with no obligation from the student to accept the hours offered.

Including students it is estimated that around 700,000 people in the UK are working under these contracts, but not all are happy. Anger surrounding exploitative zero-hours contracts has been increasingly palpable in the run up to the general election, with the depressing stories of the realities of working under these contracts making the headlines. Many of those working under such contracts have their daily activity coldly dictated by an impersonal text message early in the morning to tell them whether or not hours are available that day, and studies suggest that these kinds of working conditions have negative effects on employee wellbeing. 

The sad truth is that students are as vulnerable as any other group to being exploited by zero-hours contracts.

I met one student who had her only source of income cut off with no warning or explanation after working regular hours for seven months on a zero-hours contract. She told me she didn't know what she would have done if she didn't have the financial support of her parents after losing the earnings she depended on and was frustrated at not having the right to appeal against her sudden loss of work. 

Of course the flexibility that many zero-hours contracts offer students can be incredibly beneficial, but the idea that they are the ideal model for casual employment is a myth. That a student, dependent on their part time job to fund their living costs at university, could have their hours cut dramatically or completely without notice is unfair and cruel. 

Politicians must acknowledge that the flexibility zero-hours contracts offer groups like students cannot stand as an excuse for their ongoing exploitative existence. It can only be hoped that the current furore surrounding zero-hours contracts will continue after the 7th of May until something is done to ensure greater stability and security for those who work under them.