You’ve had zero hours, now try a sliver of time
You might think the outcry after a report revealed that more than a million people are on zero hours contracts would make government ministers think twice before bragging about other ruses to take advantage of desperation for work. But not this government – or, at least, not Lord Freud, the Minister for Welfare Reform.
As ever, nasty stuff has a euphemistic name – ‘slivers of time’ – the idea being to create a marketplace where workers bid against each other to see who can offer the lowest price to do very short, sub part-time, periods of work.
Some local authorities, including Tory-led Hammersmith and Fulham, have been using it for several years, and Tesco opened up slivers of time to its workforce in 2010.
The champion of this scheme, Lord Freud, is a man with no background in social policy and who is best known for leading the somewhat botched floatation of Eurotunnel.
He is responsible for spearheading government attacks on the Welfare State and is notorious for commenting that Scottish welfare claimants should get a job if they wanted an extra bedroom.
At a fringe session on welfare at the Conservative Party Conference, Freud described slivers of time as ‘a marketplace for short hours’ where an employer would say ‘right, we want three hours on Wednesday afternoon – what am I bid?’ That group would then say ‘I’ll do it for £10 an hour, £15 an hour… whatever’.
In other words, slivers is a Dutch auction for job seekers’ time, set up to encourage it to be sold as a commodity in a race-to-the-bottom. And, if people are forced to work at rates below the national minimum wage, such contracts could potentially be unlawful.
In his speech to the Conservative Party Conference, David Cameron announced that 16 to 25 year olds ‘Neets’ (Not in Education Employment or Training) who refuse to take up offers of education, work or training will have their benefits stopped.
But rather than conjuring up ideas for finding random hours of work to fill on shoddy terms, the government should concentrate on how best to place people into real jobs on a fair rate of pay.
Slivers of time may well have positive applications in limited circumstances if done on the worker’s own terms. But its integration into a benefits regime that operates on compulsion takes us back to the Victorian days and the fundamentally exploitative nature of workers having to tout for anything they were lucky enough to get.
employment law, thompsons, zero hours