By Pravin Jeyaraj and James Johnson-Flint
CORONAVIRUS AND ZERO HOURS CONTRACTS – A DANGEROUS COMBINATION
The sudden sweeping of the globe by the coronavirus highlights just how vulnerable workers on zero hours contracts are – and the potential danger for others.
According to data provided by the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, the groups at highest risk to the impact of the coronavirus are the elderly, those with health conditions and those working in healthcare.
Coronavirus infections in the UK still appear to be primarily linked to contact with people who have travelled here from particular areas elsewhere in the world where there have been infections. However, this connection may be becoming more tenuous based on recent cases.
So, if the spread of coronavirus becomes more widespread in the UK, it is health and social care workers who are most likely to come into contact with the virus.
ZERO HOURS CONTRACT WORKERS WILL BE DISPROPORTIONATELY AFFECTED
According to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics, the health and social care sector has the second highest proportion of zero hours contract workers, second only to the workers in the food and accommodation sector, another sector that comes into face to face contact with significant numbers of people and potential Covid-19 carriers.
NHS advice for anyone who comes into contact with the coronavirus is that you should self-isolate for 14 days, if advised by NHS 111. But if you are on a zero hours contract, the concern is that self-isolation means you are not available to take up work that is offered and so you will not be paid.
"How many people actually can't take a day off sick?" asked broadcaster James O'Brien on his show on LBC. It is "a really big deal" that some people on zero hours contracts can simply not afford to take time off work if they contract an illness. O'Brien added that the fear for many is that "if you don't drag your carcass to work you don't get paid". Wondering how many would survive in the event of a pandemic, James argued "If you take two days off sick, you don't get shifts for the rest of the week", raising concerns about just how that would impact those on zero hour contracts and in less secure work.
ZERO HOURS CONTRACT WORKERS AND STATUTORY SICK PAY
“We have already heard that some employers are already trying to take advantage of the crisis by not paying sick pay to casual staff,” says Pravin Jeyaraj, Communications Officer at Zero Hours Justice. Has this happened to you? Let us know at zerohoursjustice.org and we’ll try and help.
Zero Hours Justice believes that catching the coronavirus (or another illness) should not be an excuse for employers to refuse to pay statutory sick pay. If you are a zero hours contract worker, at the moment you may in principle be eligible to receive £94.25 a week statutory sick pay for up to 28 weeks, as long as:
However, it is by no means clear that if you are a zero hours contract worker and choose to self-isolate without showing symptoms you will have a contractual right to receive sick pay. This will depend on how the right to sick pay is defined in your contract of employment. Under many contracts of employment, a zero hours worker or an employee has no contractual right to sick pay unless they are "incapable of work". Statutory sick pay is also payable only in respect of a period when you are incapable of working.
The Health Protection (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020 contain a declaration by the Secretary of State that the incidence or transmission of novel Coronavirus is a serious and imminent threat to public health, and the measures outlined in these regulations are considered as an effective means of delaying or preventing further transmission of the virus.
Therefore, assuming that someone who self isolates does so because they are given a written notice, typically issued by a GP or by NHS 111, then they are deemed to be incapable of working, as defined in the Regulations. They would therefore be entitled to statutory sick pay. But if somebody chooses to self-isolate, and/or is not given that written notice, then they are not entitled to statutory sick pay.
The required earning threshold for statutory sick pay also means that those who are in insecure forms of work, such as zero hours contract workers, are more likely to miss out on statutory sick pay because are likely to earn less. This is because their irregular hours may not result in them earning enough to meet the income threshold. Therefore, there is a danger that zero hours contract workers may force themselves in to work even if they are unwell and put fellow workers, patients or customers' health at risk.
Analysis by the Trade Union Congress (TUC) shows that around a third (34%) of those on zero hours contracts do not meet the earnings threshold, compared to 6% of permanent employees. Statutory sick pay eligibility also varies significantly by age, with over one in five being ineligible for statutory sick pay due to not earning the required amount. Older employees, aged 65 and over, are also less likely to be eligible for SSP, with one in four not earning enough to be eligible. This mirrors the trend the TUC has observed in zero hours contracts, where these two age groups are the most likely to be employed on a zero hours contract.
The Government's plan to introduce emergency legislation to make statutory sick pay payable from day one of being off sick is a welcome move, even if it is expected to be temporary. But it is not enough. The TUC believes that the Government should abolish the lower earnings limit (and any earnings threshold) for receiving Statutory Sick Pay, which would extend coverage to almost two million workers, including zero hours contract workers. Zero Hours Justice agrees and urges the Government to implement this recommendation in the forthcoming emergency legislation to deal with the Coronavirus.
Are you on a zero hours contract and have already been affected by the Coronavirus? Let us know.
The information provided is for general guidance regarding rights and responsibilities and should not be taken as formal legal advice. Each individual's case will differ.
are you a hotel worker on a zero hours contracts? ITN WANTS YOUr HELP for a television investigation
Do you work in one of Britain’s hotel chains?
ITN is doing confidential research to find out about your experiences of working in hotels. The producers would like to speak to housekeepers, cleaners, porters, kitchen staff and others about the pros and cons of hotel work.
Issues we are looking at include pay, working conditions, workloads, unpaid time, and feedback from employees on whether they feel they get a fair deal from their employers.
The informal telephone conversations with a researcher from ITN Productions will be strictly confidential, for the purposes of research only, and will not be recorded. No information will be shared with your employer.
If you would be happy to help with this research, please email Stephen Walsh at ITN Productions directly at email@example.com or text him on 07711 021050 to arrange a call.
If English isn’t your first language, we can arrange for a translator.
Thank you in anticipation for your help with this project.
ZERo HOURS CONTRACTS AT RECORD HIGH
By Pravin Jeyaraj and James Johnson-Flint
According to the latest figures from Office for National Statistics, the number of people employed on zero hours contracts has risen to an all-time high of 974,000 – almost 1 million – in Quarter 4 2019.
This is a shocking increase of 130,000 from Quarter 4 2018 - over 15% higher in just one year and now equivalent to 3% of all people in employment.
Whilst the use of zero hours contracts has spread to all parts of society, there are particular groups which are more significantly affected, especially the lowest paid and most vulnerable who have little or no choice but to take the work offered.
The data also shows a correlation between zero hours contracts and part time employment. Of those employed on zero hours contracts, 67% are part-time workers. The reduced hours – and hence pay – that comes with part time work are compounded by the uncertainty of available work that all so often comes with zero hours contracts.
Indeed, over 25% of all people on zero hours contracts say they want more hours, quite the opposite of (and some 3 times more than) those not on zero hours contracts.
The pain endured by those on a zero hours contract unilaterally is also evident by the fact that average weekly hours for those on zero hours contracts has fallen to 23.6 hours, compared to 36.3 hours for everyone in employment.
Ian Hodson, President of Zero Hours Justice, commented: “These latest statistics show just how badly zero hours contracts affect pay and society. Those on zero hours contracts are amongst the most vulnerable in our land. Many of them feel powerless to complain, even if they suffer serious problems at work like bullying and sexual harassment. The response from managers can be threats to cut their hours of work. But they simply can’t afford to lose any pay, so what can they do? Lots of landlords won’t take you if you are on a zero hours contract. And of course, you can’t get a mortgage. So, we have members who have been forced to live in places that are unfit for habitation and dangerous to their health. Nobody should have to live like that in 21st Century Britain. Every job should give people the basic security they need to live a decent life.”
Over 40% of those employed on zero hours contracts are in the health and social care, accommodation and food sectors, with 31% employed in elementary occupations, 20% employed in care, leisure and service occupations .and 11.3% employed in professional occupations.
About Zero Hours Justice
Zero Hours Justice is a campaign led by a coalition of concerned citizens working together, with representatives from the TUC and responsible employers. The campaign was founded and funded by Julian Richer, entrepreneur, author of "The Ethical Capitalist" and avid campaigner for responsible capitalism. It is also supported by employment law specialists, Thompsons Solicitors.
The aims of Zero Hours Justice are
Julian Richer commented: “This is an apolitical campaign for those who want a better society. We want our campaign to be a coming together of interested parties to end the awful practice of zero hours contracts. As an employer, I care passionately about my colleagues. I can’t imagine anything more likely to cause misery than not knowing day-to-day whether they will have enough money for food or rent. Maybe such contracts can work for a small minority of workers who have other significant household incomes or for students with wealthy parents, but for the vast majority this evil way of exploiting people at work must be banned – as indeed they are in the great majority of European countries. If we can’t give working people basic security, we should be ashamed.”
James Bloodworth, Author of “Hired: Six Months Undercover in Low-Wage Britain”, commented: "I worked in several zero hours contract jobs as part of the research for my book and it was striking to me the level of insecurity zero hours contracts created among workers who were already having to cope with low-pay and brutal employment conditions. Not knowing from week to week how many hours you would be given by your employer added another layer of precarity to jobs that were already in many instances done by people who were struggling financially.
“Furthermore, Government policy when it comes to the benefits system has made life harder for those on zero hours contracts. Should a worker leave a job of their own volition, they are not entitled to claim jobseekers’ allowance. This leaves many workers trapped in jobs in which they are not being given enough hours each week to make ends meet. This in turn is generating a big increase in in-work poverty and food bank use. Employed on a zero hours contract, a worker may be working as little as five hours a week – yet still he or she may be unable to get another job or leave and claim jobseekers’ allowance while they look for something full time. It's nothing but cruel and I lend my support to Zero Hours Justice to help in any way I can."
For press enquiries or permission to reuse content, please contact:
Images can be downloaded from here. Image of Julian Richer should be credited to Gerardo Jaconelli.