Precarious work for the precarious generation

If you watched the recent budget from George Osborne through gritted teeth, then you were one of those who didn’t believe the “We’re on the road to recovery” mantra being espoused. All this talk of “recovery” is nothing but a staggering postulation of Tory arrogance and detachment. Whilst positive propaganda is gearing up in light of May 7th, more and more ordinary people are still feeling the strain of 5 years of brutal austerity, targeted at the most vulnerable in our society.

Vulnerability leads to desperation and insecurity. People in their desperation turn to conditions that would make even a Victorian workhouse seem a plausible endeavour of employment: at least it was permanent.  Should we therefore be surprised that 5 years of austerity has led to an implosion of zero hours contracts being used as people desperately scurry to find work?

For too long the scourge of zero hours contracts have kept a potentially vibrant and culturally significant section of the population under-paid, under-valued and given less security than their contracted counterparts. In the UK today, over one million people are insecurely employed on zero-hours terms. To put that ‘security’ within perspective, that’s the probable population of Glasgow and Edinburgh combined that could potentially be put on the dole queue tomorrow morning, without hesitation or repercussion, if all employed on zero hours terms. The proponents of this draconian method of employment insist that it offers the worker ‘flexibility’. The only ‘flexible’ aspect to these contracts is for the employers, who can ‘flexibly’ dispose of you, should you ever become too much of an annoyance.

Annoyance and rebellion is something that should never be lost within the younger generation. Over a third of these people that are on zero hours are aged 16-25. Thus, right at the birth of young people’s working lives, they’re being treated with an insecure distain, that they’re only a replaceable commodity with no contracted value.  It would not take a fee paying £9,000 a year English university undergraduate to work out why, therefore, there is so much apathy from young people towards politics. Our generation is precariously situated with a Tory government that prophesizes the value of hard work, yet encourages the use of employment contracts that give us no work to work hard on.

Young people on these types of contracts, accepted as a result of sheer desperation for scarce employment, fester for whatever hours they can get, which can be cut at any given moment. They become trapped upon the cycle of poorly paid, minimum wage work, implying that your employer only thinks the minimum of you. But, as workers of Arta and others of the G1 group will testify to, some aren’t even afforded the luxury of a minimum wage.

It falls incumbent upon this precarious generation, at every opportunity given, to expose the malignant cyclical nature of being employed on such terms. As young people scuttle within this zero-sum rat race to the bottom, our Prime Minister admits that he couldn’t live on a zero-hours contract. It appears the lingering stench of Thatcher-esque individualism lives on. One rule for the millions and a different one for the millionaires.

The use of language in this article, such as “scuttle”, “fester” and “scurry” is by no accident. Young people in Scotland are being trapped under zero hours conditions like rats in a maze; poor pay, unjustified and insecure hours, and the inability to plan a life outside employment.

It’s at times like this I call to mind Jimmy Reid: “Reject these attitudes. Reject the values and false morality that underlie these attitudes. A rat race is for rats. We’re not rats. We’re human beings.”

Those in power should remember this, come May 7th.


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Sean Mclaughlan 4 Articles
Sean is an M.A (Hons) Politics graduate from the University of Glasgow and currently serves as a delegate to the STUC Youth Committee and as Chair of Unite the Union's Scottish Youth Committee . His interests include British and Scottish politics/social affairs.

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