zero again

Last month, before the General Election, I wrote a post about the language used to describe zero-hour contracts. Much of the focus was concentrated at the time, and still is if these tweets are anything to go by, on what was/is meant by ‘exploitative’[/embed

However my partner’s experience of working for the Labour-SNP coalition of East Renfrewshire Council taught me that the real sleight of hand was in the definition of ‘zero-hour contract’. Just to recap on this; ERC claim not to use zero-hour contracts but instead have a number of bank or casual staff who may, or may not, have work from week-to-week but who are not guaranteed a minimum number of hours. The link to the earlier post is here. What I didn’t know were how many people this involved.To find this out I made a Freedom Of Information request to East Ren Council which asked them to specify, by department and by gender, the total number of individuals the Council employs as ‘bank/casual’ staff. That seemed, to me, to be the lowest common denominator of what constitutes a zero-hour contract.

The figures that they sent to me are:

Screenshot 2015-05-30 at 18.52.44
So that’s just under one thousand employees of the Labour-SNP controlled coalition on East Renfrewshire Council who don’t have a guaranteed number of working hours from week-to-week. I was also informed that ‘there is no mutual obligation in the contract and there is no exclusivity clause’.

There may need to be some further clarification on these numbers. The large ‘Education’ figure probably includes a fair number of supply teachers which in turn will undoubtedly include a number of retired teachers and lecturers who happily do the odd class now and again. I’m annoyed at myself for not having thought of that at the start. So that headline figure of 944 is probably inaccurate, and the real number will be lower, and possibly much lower. Some other points to note:

Community Health and Care Partnership is the department that

  • brings together services for children, families, adults and older people and is committed to improving the health of people living and working in East Renfrewshire and to making a difference to health inequalities.

Corporate and Community Services is the department that covers

  • human resources including training and development
  • ICT
  • revenue services including payroll, council tax administration, benefits, rent collection and support for Welfare Reform
  • communications including printing
  • managing performance
  • elections
  • children’s panel
  • community engagement

Education is the department that covers

  • School Performance & Provision
  • Inclusion, Schools & Quality Improvement
  • Culture, Sport & Continuing Education (including libraries)
  • Staff, Parents and Corporate Services

Environment is the department that

  • covers a wide range of functions, including frontline services, for example cleansing and parks; regulatory and advisory services and strategic responsibilities, such as transport, planning, housing and sustainable development.

As I was writing this post, this image was doing the rounds on social media.


It’s meant as a testament to the seriousness with which the SNP view zero-hour contracts, and is a visual representation of the SNP’s recent election manifesto commitment (p.10).

We will also support tough action to end exploitative zero hours contracts.

And yet, in power with Labour in East Renfrewshire, the SNP have a considerable number of people going from week without knowing how many hours, if any, they will be working. These are zero-hour contracts. Let us call things by their proper names. It makes everything simpler. But that doesn’t analyse the hypocrisy; it simply states what to many was already apparent.

Despite protestations to the contrary, the SNP are a bourgeois nationalist party, and the interests of the Scottish working class cannot be served by them. Despite their rhetorical tacking to the left of Labour their practices in power remain welded to capitalist solutions within an overall neoliberal framework: to borrow Slavoj Žižek’s well-known dictum from Welcome to the Desert of the Real, today’s market provides us with a range of products deprived of their malignant property: coffee without caffeine, cream without fat, beer without alcohol, and in case of the SNP, social justice without class politics.

The time has come for the Scottish left to get organized, disciplined, and malignant.

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