I have been self-employed for the best part of 30 years. If I’m not doing something that a client has agreed to be invoiced for, then I don’t get paid. That’s a whole working life on zero hours contracts, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I can pick and choose who I work for and what I do. Sometimes I’m running flat out for months, and then have no work at all, which gives me the chance to recharge my batteries, learn new stuff, relax and enjoy life.
In my ideal world no-one would “have” a job. Everyone would be on zero hours contracts for everything. Everyone would get paid for doing stuff to an agreed standard within an agreed timescale. Everyone would take responsibility for their tasks and work with whoever, whenever was required, to get things done right and on time.
That’s how the world of work should work. The paternalism of companies towards the people on their payroll breeds a fetid mix of dependence and resentment among employees, which is bad for everyone involved, and bad for business.
The recent furore over zero hours contracts makes my blood boil because it’s focusing on the wrong end of the issue. The media are too busy berating evil employers to see and address the real problem.
Why should an employer have to pay someone for sitting about doing nothing? Why should an employee have to turn up at a place of work and pretend that they’re busy until there’s something to do? It’s a ridiculous notion. In contrast, zero hours contracts are logical and fair: you get paid for the work that you do.
The problem with zero hours is that most of these jobs pay so little per hour that, even when working full time, it’s impossible for the worker to build up a cushion of cash to tide them over when there’s no work to be done. This means people are living in fear of not having enough money to pay for the essentials. They don’t know if they’re going to get enough hours to bring in enough cash to pay the bills this week, or next.
The balance of power lies firmly on the employers’ side but this doesn’t make them evil. They’re just trying to run a business as efficiently as possible. The problem is the way that our economy forces so many of us to live in fear of not being able to pay the bills.
Nobody, whether they’re able to work or not, should have to live in fear of want. We live in prosperous times on a planet that provides plenty for all of us, yet we fail to organise our economy so that everyone is able to pay for their basic needs every day of their lives, from cradle to grave.
It doesn’t have to be like this. We’re perfectly capable of changing the way that our economy works. If we do it right everyone who wants to will be able to work on zero hours contracts because they’ll have the security of knowing that they can always cover their basic bills regardless of how many hours they get on the job.
This isn’t some Utopian fantasy that needs impossible changes in human behaviour for it to come to pass. We can make it happen within a capitalist free-market. Our productive economy will thrive and enterprising people who like to get rich will have plenty of opportunity to do so. All we have to do is change the way in which we use money so that it works for us, not the other way around.
It’s all within our grasp but we insist on looking the other way and repeat the same old arguments about the same old stuff, which gets us nowhere. It’s our stupidity and incompetence that makes my blood boil.