Individuals are at risk of having their unemployment benefits suspended if it emerges that they have rejected a zero-hour contract without a valid reason, the government has warned the countryís jobseekers.
Until recently, anyone who received the Jobseekerís Allowance was entitled to reject the offer of a zero hour contract job without having to worry about any further action being taken against them.
However, the introduction of the new universal credit welfare system means that it is now necessary for individuals to take the employment opportunity- even though they do not provide a concrete number of working hours each week and pay on hourly basis.
The government has defended the contracts arguing that the average zero-hour contract worker receives at least 25 hours of paid work each week.
A government spokesperson also identified that in the event that a worker fails to receive the number of working hours in a week they require to cope with their outgoing costs, that the government would adjust the amount they receive from their universal credit payment so that they are given the support they need until their situations change.
Labour has criticised the government for supporting the exploitation of workers through their avocation of zero hour contracts, calling for the administration to concentrate on ending the usage of the contracts in the country rather than forcing people to accept them.
Under the new employment benefit regulations, jobseekers who reject job offers with a zero-hour contract could be at risk of losing over three months worth of welfare payments, with this rising for repeated ëoffendersí.
A spokesperson from the Department for Work and Pensions warned that jobseekers will have to clearly illustrate that they are doing everything they can to get into employment in order to receive welfare payments,
He also said that individuals would be required to accept job offers with “reasonable” zero-hours contracts and also continue to look for full-time employment at the same time.
He said: “As now, if there’s a good reason someone can’t just take a particular job they won’t be sanctioned.
“But it is right that people do everything they can to find work and that we support them to build up their working hours and earnings.”
He estimated the average zero hour contract worker receives 25 hours of paid work each work and that accepting work such as this could “lead to long-term opportunities”.
“Universal credit payments will adjust automatically depending on the hours a person works to ensure that people whose hours may change are financially supported and do not face the hassle and bureaucracy of switching their benefit claims,” the spokesman added.
Labour MP Sheila Gilmore argued that whilst she was not opposed to the fundamental principles of zero-hour contracts or the universal credit scheme, that nevertheless she was ëconcernedí about the knock on effects that they could have on preventing people from entering onto training courses that would give them a better chance of getting a higher salary.
“I also fear that if people are required to take jobs with zero-hours contracts, they could be prevented from taking training courses or applying for other jobs that might lead to more stable and sustainable employment in the long term,” she said.
Last week, a number of trade unions called for the government to stop employers using zero hour contracts, with a growing sentiment of resentment growing against their usage.
It is currently estimated that 20% of employers in the country have at least a single employee who they employ with a zero-hour contract, with the universal credit scheme expected to send this figure upwards.
In particular, those in the hospitality sector- where the contracts are most frequently used outside of retail- have complained that the contracts do not provide them with a fair wage in relation to the level of work they are required to do.
Politicians will have to ask themselves whether they wish to promulgate an American-esque message to employers that they are free to further their own aims without improving the financial wellbeing of the workers who get them there.
The existence of zero hour contracts seems to undermine the entire basis of the minimum wage in the country, which was initially implemented in order to stop employers exploiting the labour of their workers.
At the same time, the governmentís aim to get everyone into employment is undoubtedly admirable, and their endeavour to make the hard decisions to push previous welfare abusers into searching for employment should be commended. However, whether zero hour contracts are the answer to this question is highly contentious, as they seem to promote a widening in the wealth gap in the UK, rather than lowering it and improving the overall standard of living of people in the UK.
If the government is looking to get people into full employment, then they should do so with the aim of improving worker wages at the same time. This cannot be done through zero hour contracts, and unless measures are taken to either end their usage, or modify how they work, UK workers will have years of underpay and exploitation to look forward to as the UK continues its transformation into little America.