Agency workers and zero hours - the story of hidden exploitation

BALL, Malcolm, HAMPTON, Colin, KAMERADE, Daiga and RICHARDSON, Helen (2017). Agency workers and zero hours - the story of hidden exploitation. Project Report. Derbyshire Unemployed Workers Centres. (Unpublished)

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The story begins when Unite the Union were alerted to reports of draconian working conditions and terms of employment in Sports Direct and uncovered a litany of hidden exploitation amongst agency workers in the Sports Direct warehouse in Shirebrook, Derbyshire and those on zero-hours contracts in their retail stores. Unite were at the forefront of highlighting the harsh working conditions experienced by thousands of workers including low pay, precarious working arrangements, a dependence on agency working and a culture of fear. The campaigning by Unite and others led to the company being subject to media and parliamentary investigation and in April 2015 the Channel 4 Dispatches programme aired the ‘Secrets of Sports Direct’. In January 2016, Unite presented written evidence to the House of Commons Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, concerned about the issues affecting employees in Sports Direct and the difficulties that limited their representation. For more than two decades the issues of zero hours contracts and temporary employment agencies have been the subject of discussion at the union conferences and at the annual conference of the TUC. There has been nationally published research led by the TUC, ACAS, and others and has identified some of the problems for trade unions and their members arising from changing workplace practices. In the UK there has been a rise in Temporary Agency Work (TAW) since the financial crisis, with evidence suggesting the flexibility it offers, has one-sided benefits favouring employers. Similarly zero-hours contracts leave workers vulnerable, subject to bullying and harassment and unable to plan their lives or budget effectively. Yet the campaign often brought challenges of ‘why are you picking on Sports Direct’ and clarification was required about the extent of further hidden exploitation in workplaces across the local economy. The following report is based on work carried out from January 2017 to July 2017 by the authors and others, involving semi-structured interviews with 31 workers on TAW or zero-hours contracts. We also interviewed managers from 4 local agencies and representatives from Derbyshire Unemployed Workers Centres, Unite the Union, North Derbyshire Unite Community branch and Derbyshire Law Centre. Statistical analysis was undertaken to ascertain the extent of TAW and zero-hours contract working in the UK and the East Midlands region through enquiry of the Annual Population Surveys from the Office of National Statistics. We provide details of our interviews highlighting the experiences of those on TAW and zero-hours contracts. This story exposes the impacts of hidden exploitation and we make a number of recommendations to tackle the harsh and imposed regimes of TAW and zero-hours contracts. We also showcase examples of collective struggle – showing change is possible and can be dramatic.

Item Type: Monograph (Project Report)
Research Institute, Centre or Group - Does NOT include content added after October 2018: Sheffield Business School Research Institute > People, Work and Organisation
Depositing User: Helen Richardson
Date Deposited: 27 Sep 2017 14:55
Last Modified: 12 May 2021 18:59

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