Zero

by HST UK on May 17, 2013

zero

There appears to be no such thing as Job Security nowadays, even when you work in the Security Industry. The threat of domestic terrorism appears to have disappeared, and companies are cutting back. That guy who sits by the front desk in the office block, those chaps who wander the shops seeking shoplifters, they can go, they are disposable. A Security Guard exists in the off chance that something might go wrong, and given that nothing has been going wrong lately, we may as well get rid of them.

I don’t know why I expected to be safe, I mean, when I think about it, I believe that what I do is completely meaningless and unnecessary. I just choose not to express that view (not counting what is written here). For nearly four years I have been earning my wage on a zero-hour contract. So in a sense having that view don’t matter much. I really owe nothing to my employer and I certainly don’t feel loyalty. My job is dependent solely on whomever my company contracts me to. So really I actually respect that company, the one that I don’t actually work for, because they are providing me work.

I remember a couple of years ago when I first noticed the fragility of my zero-hour contract. I injured myself during a Martial Arts training session, my training partner went in to tackle me and I sharply turned to my right and felt a nasty pain around my hip area. I thought I’d dislocated my hip, but no, it turned out that I had torn my rectus femoris muscle in my right leg. I couldn’t walk when I woke the next morning and phoned in sick, ditto the day after. I got paid for neither of those days. My contract did not guarantee any sick days. There was no cover. On the third day I hobbled back in, nowhere near fit to work, dosed up on painkillers. It took damn near six months to recover from the injury, and on a cold day the muscle still stiffens up.

When I received a letter in the post talking about restructuring the site’s contract I was fearful. Likely there would be hours cut, and some people might possibly lose their weekly wage. There’s no redundancy package here, just a cold bullet. You get shit canned and you leave without protest, because on a zero-hour contract you have few rights. Your only hope is that you’ll find work somewhere else.

When I first entered the Security Industry I was a Relief Officer. I worked several different sites and basically took whatever hours I was given. I was scared not to. An unreliable Security Guard can pick and choose but likely they’d soon be left to sit and stew. The attitude of most site managers is – “you either want the work or you don’t”. They need a body to fill the shift. If that body has worked sixty hours that week, there’s no harm if they do another twelve hour shift on top of that. The overworked Relief Officer is a good worker bee. He doesn’t complain because next week there might be no work. Zero-hour contracts can force you into making decisions you are probably too tired to be making.

It wasn’t unusual in my early days in the Industry to be working seventy hour weeks. You’d do three shifts at the Courts, the next week you’d be at a Supermarket. Then there was some building work going on in the office block, a night shift. Can you make it? You’d get double time. You forego the fact that you haven’t slept that day because the money helps. Do seventy hour weeks for three months and you begin to feel bloody exhausted.

A zero-hour contract means that the worker is always on call, but there are no guarantees. Everything is rosy when there are ample hours about. Your employer isn’t concerned about your wellbeing in the down time. There is no standard minimum rate that could in theory at least help you when the hours aren’t there. You don’t hear anything for a week, so you phone your manager and get through to the voicemail. This happens three times. They’ve forgotten about you because they don’t need you.

I’m thankful I don’t have any dependents. How would you explain to a child that they couldn’t have that birthday present they wanted, or that there would be no holiday abroad this year? The powerless worker waits by the phone, always on call. He can’t sleep properly, partly due to the red reminders that come through in the post and also because he might be expected to work the night shift.

The Government has used the number of people on zero-hour contracts to massage unemployment figures, hundreds of thousands of people are technically working, but they aren’t all earning a living wage. When the hours aren’t there, paying the rent and other bills becomes difficult. There is no protection for the worker. They just sit and wait and hope.

The letter I received strongly implied that there was a chance I’d become surplus to requirements. Stress and anxiety followed. Endless worry and panic about worst case scenarios. When I signed my contract nearly four years ago I had no choice, I had to take work, even if the contract was zero-hours, the manager gave me his word that work was plentiful. Six months of unemployment had nearly driven me insane and I didn’t want to end up back there. When you’re unemployed you think great, all this time I have to read and write. Problem is, a man needs social contact. With no money coming in there were no trips to the pub. Friends had money but there were only so many times that you could take advantage of their generosity.

What petrifies me is that the axe is currently swinging over my site. There is a workplace culture of paranoia. Though I confess I don’t particularly like doing my job, the necessity of having money and paying rent means that you can wade through the bullshit and tolerate the boredom. Being in work is far better than being unemployed. We await notice, at the moment no news is good news.

– RJW

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