A zero-hours worker in the pandemic

Submitted by martin on 4 May, 2020 - 2:08 Author: A zero-hours worker
Zero hours

All right, I admit, I am not a down and out (whatever that's supposed to mean).

I still have a roof over my head and some support from social housing key workers. I'm still registered as a person actively pursuing something like full-time employment, and am thus entitled to claim and receive Universal Credit. I'm still officially on the payroll of a number of regional employment agencies.

Despite all that, I sense I am not down with (or maybe, up to speed with) the drift and the dynamics of an unfolding state of crisis, ostensibly a medical and public health issue, but manifestly a situation of multiple and varying socioeconomic repercussions!

As a person who generally prefers to go outdoors a great deal, I am slightly perturbed at the inconsistency of responses to the crisis among the general populace.

I admit to being capable of more self-isolation, and I myself have been somewhat disoriented in approach in view of conflicting imperatives. I normally work in event security and crowd management at sports fixtures, but with the current sporting calendar suspended that is not possible at present. I also play small gigs in local pubs which have open mic nights, but that is now impossible too.

I understand that I am still expected to actively seek paid employment, but am advised to remain at home as much as possible. Presumably, this suggests I should conduct my jobsearch online? Try to find employment that involves working from home?

Recently, I was working at the Cheltenham Festival (16-19 March), performing general stewarding duties. Unsurprisingly, a number out of the hundreds of thousands who attended as punters have since been diagnosed with the virus.

I received an SMS message a few days ago from the agency that employed dozens of staff at the event. It advised us that the client is currently unable to pay the agency because of financial obstacles arising from the Covid-19 crisis. The agency was "hoping to resolve the matter in 30/40 days", but advised us to be patient and told that threats and abuse would not be tolerated!

The agency even cited the example of Richard Branson's imposing a period of eight weeks' unpaid leave on Virgin staff.

Subsequently, the agency has invited me to apply for work in residential care. That would necessitate traveling to an interview and several training sessions prior to being deemed suitable for hire as a new employee.

Still nothing on the outstanding wages due to be paid.

But can wages be guaranteed for casual, agency-employed staff in zero-hours contract jobs? What about self-employed contractors? Or those whose employment is still based on piece-rate compensation? How are any developing disputes over unpaid wages to be resolved?

It seems that some statutory powers are relevant, but with reference still to Universal Credit as a baseline level of compensation.

Then there is the issue of mortgages vs. rents. A grace period can be granted to those repaying sums to mortgage providers, but rents remain due for the present time.

Trade unions should not shirk their responsibility for raising demands on a government which wishes to appear benign, while claiming that we are all in the same proverbial boat.

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