Zero Hour Contracts and Autism Spectrum Conditions: Far From Easy Bedfellows

Like loading a ZX Spectrum game in a Commodore 64 Datasette? Probably.

As the sub header implies, the above notion is impossible. Though both 8 bit computers used the same type of compact cassette, both have different processors and interfaces for loading tapes.

People on the autism spectrum are often seen as being ‘wired differently’. Like Commodore Business Machines’ proprietary interfaces – even between C64s and VIC 20s. Similarly, a Zero Hour Contract is anathema to regular work with set hours. You are indebted to the company’s demands, able to arrive at short notice, and you have no idea how you can budget for everyday essential items, as earnings fluctuate. As a consequence, it stymies credit ratings, prevents anyone from renting, let alone a mortgage. Though National Minimum Wage legislation and paid holidays are available, affected workers may be reluctant to book holidays for fear of missing work.

I wouldn’t want to wish zero hour contracts on anyone. In my opinion, they are a legalised tax dodge where misused, and one, which in the long term will affect tax revenues and drive down wages. Unless a supertax is imposed on our billionaires and millionaires, greater use of ZHCs would ultimately see the end of our public services.

Some people on ZHCs are out of work for months till their next wage. Or they never see their employer again. Until recently, people claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance or Employment and Support Allowance could turn down positions where zero hour contracts. Now, beginning with Universal Credit claimants, they could be mandated to take such positions. Therefore, they could be at the whims of both the DWP and their zero hour employer: forced to find work where no work is available; also, report their earnings to the DWP if they worked. Hello 21st century feudalism?

Whether on the autism spectrum or otherwise, zero hour contracts and the uncertainty that abounds are truly knackering. According to ACAS, a break in employment constitutes a calendar week without work. For many people on the autism spectrum, even the slightest change to a familiar bus route could be disorienting, and I can speak from past experience.

Why Zero Hour Contracts Aren’t Autie Friendly:

  1. Uncertainty could stymie loyalty;
  2. Being on-call could disorientate daily living;
  3. Fluctuations in working hours could disrupt routine and executive functioning;
  4. Changes to routine could impair performance at work and reduce employee retention.

From my experience, I have found how having a supportive employer and equally supportive colleagues has boosted my productivity. They have been, and some to this day remain good friends. All went well till the Global Financial Downturn when work started drying up. Luckily for me, I was in an industry which was thriving, and found suitable work within a week of leaving a previous position. In the second company, work was less than forthcoming; the business had cash flow issues and have since gone. The third, a right bunch of cowboys with delayed wages, bogus self employment status and cash-in-hand payment.

With the last two, my loyalty was tested. With a zero hour contract, the same factors are true. Firstly, passing the interview stages and/or assessment is a test for most people; difficult several times over as I have found, and probably so with fellows on the autism spectrum. Therefore, I have endeavoured to work hard enough to stay in my desired position for as long as possible.

Not being in work at a regular date and time erodes any possible mutual support networks. It doesn’t make for any continuity unless zero hour staff are additional to, instead of as part of the business’ core workforce.

Working a set number of hours each week allows a degree of certainty. You may set your time around public transport services or drive at a certain time to avoid the worst of the traffic. Unless you have your own transport, any change of hours could be a pain in the posterior. If your zero hour employer allocates you unsocial hours, it may fall outside your regular bus/train/tram timetable leading to – inevitably – panic. Sometimes, if outside your locality’s boundaries, an extra cost on top of concessionary passes may be incurred. In some cases, greater cost if a taxi is required for part of the journey.

Supposing you work one day six hours later than the previous, your routine – mealtimes, self care, timetables and the like could be disrupted. Not least sleep patterns, household chores or social engagements. Any of the above could also be counterproductive to work.

As stated earlier, passing the interview stages is one major hurdle. Holding down a job is the other. Any minor change, as I have found myself has an affect on performance. The 330 service being more than five minutes late or held up at Bents Lane/Stockport Road is one. To my present place of work, I always come in early with any spare time spent over a coffee in the Bredbury branch of Morrisons.

If the journey had been rough going, some of my sensory issues are heightened and I need some seamless transition from journey to office.

Unless familiar with the route, there could be some anxiety, where the lack of a graceful transition could affect performance. Inconvenient hours (or rather, hours most convenient to employers) could be more overloading to the employee on the autism spectrum.

Where Zero Hour Contracts May Be Autie Friendly:

  1. If a friend or relative has had a good experience with ZHCs;
  2. If he or she has a dependable primary income stream;
  3. If he or she has access to private transport;
  4. If in a field which he or she has great interest.

I abhor zero hour contracts with a passion, though there are some people who are able to find them useful. If you really REALLY want a zero hour contract, do your homework thoroughly on potential employers. If you know anyone who has had a positive experience, get in touch with their employer.

Owing to the inconsistent nature of such contracts, I strongly recommend having access to a primary income stream. If you have a partner with a well paid full time job, consider a zero hour contract as a supplementary income stream, never the basis of a core household income. Likewise if you are able to supplement your State Pension. Furthermore, if you have no access to your own vehicle, zero hour contracts are most unsuitable.

If you are able to find a position which best suits your interest, that can only be a good thing whatever hours are available. If they only offer you a zero hour contract, tread very carefully, so long as you are able to fulfil the second and third points in this section. Other than that, avoid.

*                   *                  *

If we really want to make our workplaces more inclusive, we need to return to the principles of ‘a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay’. This means living wages, a clampdown on the misuse of zero hours contracts (or a discontinuation even), and and restricting ‘workfare’ work trials to two weeks. Nobody should ever be coerced into a zero hour contract under pain of lost Social Security benefits.

At present, the opposite is happening. The coalition Tory-led government is making for a less autie-friendly workplace. Zero hours contracts or otherwise, and that’s before we elaborate on the DLA/PIP omnishambles.

S.V., 12 May 2014.

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One thought on “Zero Hour Contracts and Autism Spectrum Conditions: Far From Easy Bedfellows

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  1. Stuart, as ever, you have added another incite to the zero hours question. For many policy makers, although responsible for determining economic and social policy, there is an increasing default tendency to let economic considerations crowd out all other considerations. I think that this sort of view is characterised by a piece in this week’s edition of “The Economist” (10th-16th May 2014) – an otherwise well written informative piece that fails to note the social and economic exclusion impact of zero hours and the disproportionately unequal impact on some sectors of the community including the autistic. The Economst’s report does say that the government has launched a consultation – perhaps it would be worthwhile making your views known to your MP to ensure that those running the consultation exercise do not forget those disadvantaged by autism.

    http://www.economist.com/news/britain/21601861-problem-zero-hours-contracts-not-they-are-too-flexible-zero-tolerance

    Quote:
    Britain’s flexible labour market was a boon during the economic slump, helping keep joblessness down and then, when the recovery began, allowing employment to rise. Yet one of its bendier bits is causing politicians to fret. Ed Miliband, the leader of the Labour Party, has promised a crackdown on “zero-hours contracts” if he wins the next election. The government has launched a consultation.
    Zero hours contracts allow firms to employ workers for as few or as many hours as they need, with no prior notice. In theory, at least, people can refuse work. Fully 1.4m jobs were based on these contracts in January 2014, according to a snapshot taken by the Office for National Statistics. That is just 4% of the total, but the share rises to a quarter in the hospitality business.
    The contracts are useful for firms with erratic patterns of demand, such as hotels and restaurants. They have also helped firms to expand during the recovery—allowing them to test new business lines before hiring permanent staff, who would be more costly to make redundant if things went wrong.
    Flexibility suits some workers, too. According to one survey, 47% of those employed on zero hours’ contracts were content to have no minimum contracted hours. Many of these workers are in full-time education. The ability to turn down work is important to students, who want to revise (or sit in the sun) at this time of year. Pensioners keen for a little extra income can often live with the uncertainty of not having guaranteed hours.
    Yet that leaves more than a quarter of workers on zero hours contracts who say they are unhappy with their conditions. Some of this is cyclical. During recessions, a dearth of permanent positions forces people into jobs with no contracted hours even if they do not want them (the government has just said that unemployed people who refuse to accept zero hours contracts could be cut off from benefits). Underemployment is particularly prevalent among these workers, 35% of whom would like more hours compared with 12% in other jobs. As the economy recovers, many should be able to renegotiate their contracts or find permanent jobs.
    But the recovery will not cause unwanted zero hours contracts to disappear. Some workers will never have much negotiating power: they are constrained by geography, family commitments and lack of competition for their skills among a small number of big employers. Zero hours contracts make it easier for employers to abuse their labour-market power. Some use them to avoid statutory obligations such as sick and maternity pay. Workers are penalised for not being available when requested. And some contracts contain exclusivity clauses which prevent workers from taking additional jobs. These can harm other employers as well as workers, and actually reduce labour market flexibility. That, at least, is worth doing away with.
    Unquote:

    Best wishes
    Bob

    Like

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