COVID-19 AND THE UNFAIRNESS OF UK GOVERNMENT "HELP" MAKES THE LIVES OF ZERO HOURS WORKERS HARDER AND MORE PRECARIOUS THAN EVER
By Peter Stefanovic
For those of the million on breadline zero hours contracts, the future is now more uncertain than ever despite the government’s plan to pay 80% of wages for employees out of work during the coronavirus pandemic.
The UK Government's Coronavirus job retention scheme as presently constituted leaves many workers on zero hours contracts out in the cold.
In theory it should be simple. The Chancellor says the scheme will cover everybody who is paid via PAYE through a company, with the state reimbursing the employer 80% of your salary up to a maximum of £2500/month. The problem is many zero-hours contract workers are not on PAYE, so won’t be eligible for the scheme and even worse the scheme only applies if you earn more than £118/week and where companies decide to take it up. Over the past week many zero hours contract workers have simply had their hours reduced to little or nothing.
Even if they fall within the scheme what good is eighty percent of a poverty wage which is what many workers on zero contracts were getting in the first place?
Its easy to forget in the present crisis that whilst employment may have been at a new high before the pandemic hit, the number of people who had a job but lived in poverty had just risen for the third year in a row. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation found 56% of people living in poverty had a job! Even before this pandemic, many zero hours contract workers were living hand to mouth. How has this suddenly been forgotten? Eighty percent of a poverty wage isn’t going feed families when they were barely surviving on the wage they got.
If an employer can't be bothered to take the Coronavirus job retention scheme up or refuses to because of the cash flow burden it places on a company, the zero hours contract worker can do little more than apply for universal credit. Even if they can access UC quickly, which is unlikely given more than half a million people have applied for for it in the last nine days alone, how are they supposed to pay their bills and feed their families on £94 a week! Even Health Secretary Matt Hancock says he couldn’t live on it!
The reality for many of the country's million zero hours contract workers is that for all the good Government has done for others, the reality is that it has yet again left them at best with scraps on the table.
It’s simply not right, it’s not fair and it certainly isn’t just!
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Images can be downloaded from here. Image of Julian Richer should be credited to Gerardo Jaconelli.