west*wales*news*review

West Wales News Review — analysis with a sustainability slant

Zero Hours Contracts for Care Assistants: Dickensian Days

Packing up some surplus crockery in old newspaper, pending a visit to the charity shop, I noticed an advert for care assistants, placed by a well known not-for-profit company operating in this part of Wales. Checking online to see if the terms and conditions were still current, I was disappointed to see that they are. It was not only the low wage, £7.45 an hour, but the fact that these are not ‘jobs’ as we used to know them. They are zero hours contracts.

Zero hours contracts are creating a casual labour force lacking any certainty of income. These workers are called in when the employer needs work done, but the employer offers nothing more than that. For the worker, it is a matter of waiting for a message, of not being able to enter into financial commitments, of not being able to plan their lives.

Zero hours contracts tell workers they are not valued for themselves, only as a means to improve the trading figures. No one should have to accept a zero hours contract, certainly not care assistants, who look after frail and ill people. They deserve proper jobs, providing a known income week after week.

“Care home staff in this country are underpaid and overstretched and are afraid to report abuse in case they lose their jobs,” Mrs Pauline Slaughter is reported as saying: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2116239/Judges-anger-accuses-Bupa-home-putting-cash-care-grandmother-90-dies-neglect.html. Mrs Slaughter’s mother Joyce Farrow died after neglect in a care home run by Bupa which, like the organisation advertising zero hours contracts in Wales, is a not-for-profit business, and thus is supposed to put the interests of its clients first.

The Big Stick approach to labour relations has flourished since Margaret Thatcher strode into 10 Downing Street in 1979, but it has created an ugly disregard for workers, which oozes into attitudes to clients and customers.

If I was on a zero hours contract, if my employer didn’t require me for several days, and my washing machine broke down and I couldn’t afford to have it mended or to buy my child’s school uniform, when I was eventually called in for a shift, my mind would not be fully on the job. It would be worrying how to repay my escalating debts.

Zero hours contracts are taking us back to a history from which we thought we had escaped. Somewhere, is there a present-day Charles Dickens to alert us to such abuse?

Pat Dodd Racher

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