My zero hour contract has left me poor this summer, but for a Neet it would be much worse
Since starting my university summer almost three months ago, I’ve had no more than 10 shifts at my retail job. This isn’t because I’m a seasoned jetsetter or that I’m ‘feckless’ or ‘work shy’; I just happen to be one of those mugs on a zero hour contract. As I’ve had a number of work placements, the euphoric Olympics have been on and it is also my last four-month break before I graduate in 2013, it hasn’t been that bad. But for a Neet (someone between 16-24 who is ‘not in education, employment, or training’) these token gestures would be meaningless, making a zero hour contract a living nightmare.
My dad regularly likes to stress to me that “we’re not the Rockefellers”, a fact that has been conclusively proven throughout this summer stretch. Due to various bills, travel expenses, and general socialising (God forbid I have fun!), I’ve failed to break even. A few of my friends are in similar positions; they have to be willing to blow out their plans at the drop of a hat in order to secure shifts. Of course, they are given a choice, but the question by their employer; ‘are you available to work?’ is almost rhetorical.
During the university year, a zero hour contract was beneficial. The ability to turn down shifts whilst snowed under with deadlines and society events left me somewhat in control, however, now the insecurity is unsettling. But I’m sensing that ‘unsettling’ is a word which doesn’t quite sum up the level of frustration a Neet feels. Obviously ‘a job’ is better than ‘no job’, I only wonder how much better? In one of these positions, it would be impossible to plan your life or next move. With no routine, a zero hour contract employee would live from hand to mouth, probably in a sort of stagnant limbo. Looking for new work would be problematic, as you’d always have to be on call, whilst the idea of having enough money saved to start an internship is almost comical. Questions I would ask myself daily would include: Am I unemployed? Where is this going? Do I sign on?
The ONS said the number of people claiming Job Seekers Allowance fell by 5,900 to 1.59 million in July. Obviously this is a good thing, but with the ONS also stating that since 2012, 161,000 people have been on these unprogressive contracts, its likely that many have been left worst off in the bid to remove huge unemployment gaps on their CV. If you work less than 16 hours a week, you are eligible to sign on with your employers consent. However, as this is not a very dignifying activity (I’ve heard), many would not wish for their employer to know of their needs of a governmental top-up, resulting in some suffering in silence.
Figures show that youth unemployment has fallen by 4,000 to just over a million in the last quarter. However, with the Olympics done and dusted and the number of people working part-time hitting a record high, this can hardly be seen as an improvement. If those on zero hour contracts are labeled as ‘employed’, it suggests that those individuals are somewhat neglected and forgotten about by their government. Being an ‘as and when’ employee, you’re seldom around to invest in key relationships, both with your employer and your colleagues; making obtaining references or building up a network of contacts near impossible. So in a way, everyone forgets you.
With employers knowing that demand for work drastically outstrips vacancies, these contracts seem as exploitative as some internships; a new sort of carrot and stick approach to the working environment maybe? You can’t even call someone who works on a zero hour contract a freelancer, as whether they work is completely out of their control.
Zero hour contracts are clearly not for real people. Without a doubt, these positions are ideal for students and individuals in between jobs. But for anyone interested in planning for the future, they can’t be healthy. With limited money, shifts and protection, landing one of these jobs as a Neet has to be the biggest anti-climax. At best you wave goodbye to your social life, and at worst, you get stuck in a destructive rut.Tagged in: employment, NEET, retail, shift work, university, zero hour contract
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