Zero-hour contracts and pseudo self-employment: what to do?
If the U.N.'s consultants ever came together to demand better working conditions, perhaps they should go straight to the International Labour Organization. Everything the ILO stigmatises about "non-standard employment"(NSE) in a new report lines up with the way the United Nations organizations, at least in Geneva, expect their temporary hires to work.
A European Union report published on 17 February 2017 with the ILO about teleworking also noted a "tendency [...] to longer working hours, [...] an overlap between paid work and personal life [and] work intensification" despite some distinct advantages of working from home, such as work-life balance.
Both reports suffer from bureaucratic verbiage and sentences that try to cover all points of the compass. But some of the proposals on remote working are easy to understand and implement, such as (in the European Union report on teleworking) this recommendation: "measures limiting such work beyond normal business hours".
As for NSE (organizations can't resist such acronyms: they guarantee your seriousness):
- "Working arrangements may involve very short hours or no predictable fixed hours, and the employer has no obligation to provide a set number of hours of work," the ILO said in its 14 November 2016 policy paper on Non-standard Employment Around the World.
- "One area sometimes lacking legal clarity is dependent self-employment where workers [...] receive direct instructions with respect to how the work is to be carried out. These workers are typically not covered by the provisions of labour law or employment-based social security."
- "Widespread use of NSE may reinforce labour market segmentation, a situation in which one segment of the labour market" (e.g. consultants) "faces both inferior working conditions and vulnerable employment status."
The report makes four policy recommendations:
- Ensure equal treatment regardless of contract
- Strengthen the ability of unions to represent part-timers
- Increase social protection by eliminating or lowering thresholds on minimum hours to gain benefits
- Introduce policies that allow workers to carry out their social responsibilities such as childcare
Any well-intentioned government will find the report useful if it wants to know how to improve conditions for part-time workers.
Each of the laws in the ILO report to casual and temporary workers better protection seems to have been enacted in one country at least. But the Netherlands can claim to be "the first part-time economy in the world" — as one researcher described it — with nearly half of wage employees working part time, in nearly all occupations, but with permanent employment contracts.
"The average wage gap between full-timers and part-timers is negligible or non-existent," ILO reports. "Several studies have shown that Dutch women [65 percent of whom are part-timers in jobs, as against 28% of men] "are not only satisfied with part-time work, but also prefer it."
One of the major advantages claimed for part-time and teleworking is that it provides work for people who might not be able to take full-time jobs. But the ILO report points out these are the first to go in a recession, often at short notice.
The report notes that as far back as 1982 Dutch trade unions agreed to moderate wage demands in exchange for policies to fight unemployment, and these included promoting part-time work.
ILO: Non-standard Employment Around the World: Understanding challenges, shaping prospects
Eurofound/ILO: Working anytime, anywhere: the effects on the world of work