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wonderpup

Zero Hours Contracts And The It Revolution.

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There have always been backwaters of the economy where things like Zero Hours contract style employment existed, so it's not exactly something new.

So why-suddenly- are Zero hours and similar types of 'flexible' arrangement getting so much attention?

The obvious answer is that these arrangements are becoming more widespread, affecting more people and perhaps affecting more 'important' people, such as hospital radiographers;

Examples of roles where zero hours are used in the public sector, and organisations contracted to deliver public services, include college lecturing, nursing, radiography and care work. Education (35%) and healthcare (27%), in particular, make above average use of zero hours. One academic study has even suggested that half of private sector workers in the domiciliary care industry are on zero hours contracts.

http://www.theguardian.com/public-leaders-network/2013/aug/15/public-sector-zero-hours-contracts

But this gives rise to another question- why now? Why not 20 years ago or 40 years ago? What has altered in the mix to make such flexible terms of employment more common?

I think the answer is mostly IT. The ability to automate or semi automate the process of tracking who has worked when, how much they need to be paid and have those payments themselves automatically made has had the effect of making it far more easy for an employer to deal with the logistics of a workforce whose hours and pay are a constant variable. In the past such tracking would have required the hiring of people to administer the system, which in many cases would have negated the benefit of doing it in the first place.

It's true that other factors such as the weakening of trade unions also plays a part- but since this trend is impacting on the heavily unionized public sector as well as the private sector I don't believe it's a major factor. So in my view it is the technology now available that is driving the trend.

If I am right about this then we can expect these types of arrangements to become more common in the future as technology gets smarter in it's ability to monitor employees and more precisely measure their performance and input. The logic behind the zero hours contract is simple- you only pay for the time you need- so if there is no work to be done the employee is sent home, not paid to stand around doing nothing.

But this is a fairly crude metric since it is based not on the direct performance of the individual but on a simple numerical calculation of how many generic employees of a given kind are required to fulfill a given task.

Much more useful would be to extend the concept to include a far more granular account of what each employee is contributing to the task in hand and have this data updated in real time to gain a clear understanding of how much input that employee has while engaged in the task.

So in the future instead of the crude 'zero hours' arrangements we see at present we might find that the employees prospects of employment are determined by the data set they generate while going about their tasks- those who are seen to be more efficient might get more hours offered, while those seen to be less so will be offered less- and some will be discarded as too inefficient to employ at all.

Of course the downside for the 'winners' in this arrangement will be that since their performance will be monitored so closely it will be possible to optimize the hours they are offered to as few as possible to get the task done.

The other downside is that the employees will have to accept a far greater degree of on the job surveillance than is common at present- but there is some evidence that this will not be a problem;

Amazon staff have previously revealed how they have been tracked by GPS tags inside the company’s eight UK warehouses and even had toilet breaks timed - claims the firm has denied.

One employee at the warehouse - otherwise known as a ‘fulfilment centre’ - in Rugeley, Staffordshire, likened conditions to a ‘slave camp’.

Mr Littler wore a pedometer after he was given a job as a ‘picker’, pushing trolleys around and collecting customers’ orders from the shelves, at Amazon’s 800,000sq ft distribution centre in Swansea.

Pickers are given handheld scanners which calculate the most efficient route to collect items, and tell them if they are hitting their targets.

The documentary, due to be screened tonight, shows him racing to beat the scanner’s digital countdown to collect each item.

‘You all literally work to the bone and there doesn’t seem to be any reward or any let-up,’ he said.

‘I’ve never done a job like this before. The pressure’s unbelievable.’

Former workers have claimed the firm imposed a ‘three strikes and release’ discipline system to sack workers who did not meet targets.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2512959/Walk-11-miles-shift-pick-order-33-seconds--Amazon-works-staff-bone.html

Technology in the future will make it possible to create employment contracts based not upon the crude metric of present/non present but based on the accumulated data set of each individual employee- such that your contract of employment will be a unique instrument, one finely tuned to maximizing your utility while minimizing your income.

Edited by wonderpup

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All the productivity of the future economy will be captured and farmed by the robot owners. They will be very rich indeed, as well as the land owners.

Edited by 200p

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It's not just about tracking, but demand anticipation that IT has made a lot easier. For example, when the weather changes, as a store manager you probably have an increasingly good idea how that will translate into sales - and what stock needs to be out on display - and therefore what staff are required to make it happen.

The same is true of all kinds of other sectors which have peaks and troughs in demand for staff. Zero hours is likely to slowly become the norm although in white collar jobs they tend to be better paid, better conditions and be called consultants. But I suspect partly a vanity thing, and partly a demand (sometimes) outstripping supply.

Edited by StainlessSteelCat

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Everyone will work for free (for work experience) in the "hope" of real paid work, that might not come. We have that infrastructure right now. With all these charity shops on the secondary and tertiary high streets, the next step is to roll that out further and minimise the cost of managers who are paid a hourly rate.

Supermarkets (the national food bank), Banking (securing finance for the disadvantaged), Estate Agents (finding homes for the poor) can all become charities to make use of the tax, business rate, and wage advantages. Don't think it isn't a possibility because a hedge fund registered as a charity before.

The only people who I can say who won't have zero hours, but have 24 hours per day (on call you see), are the business owners, their families and close friends, who will be appointed for the gravy train roles.

Edited by 200p

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Don't really follow this line of thought TBH.

Plenty of casual labour existed before computer technology.

Yes...theyve changed the name....casual labour, where men turned up at the collection point in the morning and picked from the pool, the rest went home.

today, we have electronic pools...today, we have benefits so few queues at the dole office. In the US, they dont have soup kitchen queues, they have food stamps.

Human misery, once visible, is hidden in the metal skin of the computer, and where it causes a problem, we change the name, immediately removing from view, the problem, with the masses now noticing the new issue as it is mentioned in the MSM..

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All the productivity of the future economy will be captured and farmed by the robot owners. They will be very rich indeed, as well as the land owners.

None-sense. Anybody can buy a robot, 3D printer, CNC, etc ... Plus in the West there will be always the social net - foood, shelter, cloth, etc ...

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All the productivity of the future economy will be captured and farmed by the robot owners. They will be very rich indeed, as well as the land owners.

Yes because all those robots will need a home in which to live, food to eat, clothes to wear, TVs to watch in the evening, cars to drive, restaurants to eat in etc

The problem with the zeros hour economy as Tescos are finding out is that no consumers means no or declining profit.

Slave owning societies do have elites but they tend to be a even smaller than those which exist in modern capitalist societies

So the question then becomes which members of the elite are going to be giving up their lunch.

It is when that question is posed that real wars start.

BTW Working in the IT industry I can tell you it is packed with people who are masters at giving the impression of working when in fact they are doing nothing no matter how carefully the metrics are managed by machine.

Edited by stormymonday_2011

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There have always been backwaters of the economy where things like Zero Hours contract style employment existed, so it's not exactly something new.

So why-suddenly- are Zero hours and similar types of 'flexible' arrangement getting so much attention?

The obvious answer is that these arrangements are becoming more widespread, affecting more people and perhaps affecting more 'important' people, such as hospital radiographers;

http://www.theguardian.com/public-leaders-network/2013/aug/15/public-sector-zero-hours-contracts

But this gives rise to another question- why now? Why not 20 years ago or 40 years ago? What has altered in the mix to make such flexible terms of employment more common

They have to fund the ever growing tiers of middle management and non jobs that didn't exist then somehow .... I also think the fact the trade union dog had his teeth removed in the eighties made it far easier for this to happen

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Plenty of non jobs in 50s 60s and 70s maybe even more so than today - but these were protected by law and by union power. The difference is that employers have now fought back to withdraw employment rights from the majority to line the minority's pockets.

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I have first hand experience of Zero Hour contracts that make me realise that employment and home ownership have become overrated, unsustainable burdens in my age group (18 to 35). In a animation learning course we had a lad with us who at first seemed glad he got a job at a cinema, but his entry job demanded that he had to be pulled away from his ten week learning course that he paid for.

Edited by Big Orange

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I had a zero hours contract job once as a waiter. I did not see it as being zero hours, I simply looked at what my shift would be for the forthcoming week - sometimes I had 5 nights, sometimes 6. I suppose that technically I could have had zero shifts - it just never happened.

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Don't really follow this line of thought TBH.

Plenty of casual labour existed before computer technology.

I did make this point in my OP. What I am suggesting is that IT is making it far more easy for employers to fine tune their employment practices without incurring the admin overhead this might have involved in the past.

Interestingly Universal Credit was a variation on the same idea- the idea being to create a system in which benefits would automatically adjust to earning in real(ish) time, so that the barrier to entry for working was eliminated, since the transition from benefits to work would-in theory- be seamless.

Of course in this case it proved to be unworkable because the infrastructure is just not there yet to allow this kind of real time reporting of income to happen- but Universal credit is an example of how 'big data' is potentially going to be used to track individuals on quite a granular level.

Another strand to this is the evolution of biometrics- I saw a piece on the BBC today about how the payment processors are looking at using heartbeat monitors to authorize payments in stores- I assume this works because we all have unique heartbeat signatures that can be used to identify us.

Biometric identifiers, in one form or another, have been a part of the security industry for some time. While most biometric access control solutions use a fingerprint or an iris scan to identify an individual, Toronto-based Bionym is taking a unique approach to the market with a newly launched solution called the Nymi. Unlike other biometric devices that make the user submit to a physical read of their finger or eye, the Nymi is a wearable authentication device that uses a person’s heartbeat to verify their identity.

http://www.securityinfowatch.com/article/11144155/bionyms-new-nymi-wristband-uses-electrocardiograms-as-a-biometric-identifier

An extension of this technology could be to measure an employees level of engagement by monitoring their heart activity while they are working and use this metric as part of a HR assessment as to their value to the company, which could impact on the hours of work they are offered. Sounds extreme perhaps- but maybe not so much in the context of much HR evaluation that already goes on in an attempt to fine tune employee performance.

So what I am suggesting is that IT is amplifying the trend toward a more precarious and fragmented work environment due to it's ability to provide information to employers on a far more granular manner than in the past and with a far lower cost overhead than in the past.

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....but the bills, debt and rents still have to be paid, no zero payment for them.

Yes. And It's easily possible to imagine a scenario in which a person employed on a zero hours contract could also have a consumer debt contract with the same company- for example a shop worker might buy on credit from the store they work in.

At this point they are subject to two contractual paradigms- as an employee they are expected to accept total flexibility in terms of their income- while as a consumer they must agree to zero flexibility in the matter of servicing their debt.

The interesting aspect here is that debt obligations are often framed not only in terms of a legal obligation but also in terms of a moral obligation- to not pay one's debts is still viewed by many people as immoral.

Compare and contrast this with the totally amoral approach embedded in the Zero hours contract, where a strict utilitarian model is applied.

Were the population at large to choose- en masse- to approach the payment (or non payment) of their debts in a similarly utilitarian manner, strategically defaulting if this were their optimal course of action- I predict there would a be a blast of moral outrage from their creditors and the Government too.

One of the great ironies of the Neo Liberal world view lies in the fact that it's amoral pragmatism implicitly assumes the existence of a pre -existing moral foundation- the amoral freedoms it espouses are not intended to apply to the great unwashed whose behavior- they demand- will continue to be constrained by the very moral constructs they have deigned cannot apply to themselves.

A wonderful example of this duality of thought can be seen in the anguished response of the Wall street bankers who condemned those american house owners who chose to strategically default on their home loans when the value of their properties collapsed This was- in the view of wall street- an 'irresponsible' dereliction of their moral duty to honor their commitments.

Irony just does not come more undiluted than that. :lol:

Edited by wonderpup

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None-sense. Anybody can buy a robot, 3D printer, CNC, etc ...

Bingo. The robot owners will be... us.

The industrial era is ending, and the need for people to sit in front of a machine pulling a lever for twelve hours a day ends with it. Which is a good thing, except to those who get a thrill from pulling a level for twelve hours a day.

And, yes, the next few decades will be as troublesome for many as the beginning of the industrial revolution, when people left the land for the new industrial cities. That's life.

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But surely IT has also through closer and increased connectivity between people led to an increase in demand for goods and services than previously which in turn requires more labour?

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Bingo. The robot owners will be... us.

The industrial era is ending, and the need for people to sit in front of a machine pulling a lever for twelve hours a day ends with it. Which is a good thing, except to those who get a thrill from pulling a level for twelve hours a day.

And, yes, the next few decades will be as troublesome for many as the beginning of the industrial revolution, when people left the land for the new industrial cities. That's life.

I don`t think its that simple someone will still need to extract/process/make the material that the robots make the products from and a good percentage of the so called redundant labor will be utilised in making /maintaining robots

It`s going to be a very very long time before the maintenance/construction of the steel/petrochemical/mining industries is replaced by robots

CNC is still only economic in the mass production sector although its is getting cheaper just like all technology dose but the engineering cost have not (ie a milling machine still cost the the same but the cnc control systems have become cheaper)

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Yes. And It's easily possible to imagine a scenario in which a person employed on a zero hours contract could also have a consumer debt contract with the same company- for example a shop worker might buy on credit from the store they work in.

At this point they are subject to two contractual paradigms- as an employee they are expected to accept total flexibility in terms of their income- while as a consumer they must agree to zero flexibility in the matter of servicing their debt.

This would be bonded labour, which does of course also exist. Immigrant fruit pickers paying for their transport, accommodation and food out of withheld wages for example, but instead using corporate structures - a kind of "corporate socialism" if you will. It would also have to offer a better lifestyle than the current benefits system could offer, or there would be no incentive to agree to these terms unless the alternative was near-starvation and a complete loss of dignity. Dismantling the benefits system is obviously the aim, but that will be politically difficult, which brings me to my next point.

Of course this kind of thing has precedent in the 19th century, but none of it has precedent under universal suffrage, so it really is neoliberalism vs democracy right now. These kind of corporate structures require political (and by extension market) stability, so this brave new neoliberal utopia requires governments to continually legislate to empower corporations, and suppress self-sufficiency in the form of small businesses, community solidarity and individual freedoms, which itself could be empowered by automation and new technologies. But it also requires the people to implicitly consent to this happening by not voting against it, and not rising up when they realise there is no one offering an alternative. It has worked quite well over the past 30-odd years, but there comes point where the population will no longer even passively accept being screwed over like this. I think you could reasonably argue that we are getting close to that point now. Things like the TTIP seem rather "end-gamey" to me, they are so brazenly anti-democratic that they seem like the final act of an ideology attempting to destroy democracy before it is destroyed by democracy.

So we're approaching the point when neoliberalism needs to either install some kind of pacifying corporate totalitarianism, or be destroyed by democracy as people reject it. I feel that the latter will happen, but it will probably be a messy process.

Edited by Bear Goggles

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So we're approaching the point when neoliberalism needs to either install some kind of pacifying corporate totalitarianism, or be destroyed by democracy as people reject it. I feel that the latter will happen, but it will probably be a messy process.

Perhaps you could explain exactly what you think you're going to do?

'Rise up, brothers, and seize the means of production!' - uh, it's in China. Good luck with that.

Steal the money from the EVIL 1%? You hand out to everyone so they can buy crap from China. Then what?

Print money so you can pay some people to dig holes, and others to fill them in?

What do you think you're going to achieve? Industrial jobs are going, and they're never coming back.

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I had a zero hours contract job once as a waiter. I did not see it as being zero hours, I simply looked at what my shift would be for the forthcoming week - sometimes I had 5 nights, sometimes 6. I suppose that technically I could have had zero shifts - it just never happened.

The point is that you could be doing this job for 5 years or so, and then something changes, a new manager who doesnt like you for whatever reason. They don't need to fire you or make you redundant, they can just reduce your hours to 0 until you quit.

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Perhaps you could explain exactly what you think you're going to do?

'Rise up, brothers, and seize the means of production!' - uh, it's in China. Good luck with that.

Steal the money from the EVIL 1%? You hand out to everyone so they can buy crap from China. Then what?

Print money so you can pay some people to dig holes, and others to fill them in?

What do you think you're going to achieve? Industrial jobs are going, and they're never coming back.

I've just re-read my post and I'm not sure how you get from it that I'm advocating or predicting a Marxist revolution, in fact it's quite the opposite. I'm talking about a creeping rejection of neoliberal corporate socialism.

Currently the single biggest anti-mainstream UK political movement is UKIP. I'm not voting UKIP at the next election, so if you are asking what I'm going to do about it, you're asking the wrong question and you're probably missing my point.

My point is that there is at last a meaningful rejection of the prevailing political ideology occurring, and not just in the UK, but across Europe and to a certain extent in the US too. It is playing out before our eyes and its outcome is difficult to predict. In my previous post I'm specifically rejecting Wonderpup's dystopian bonded-labour vision of the future because I think democracy is stronger than the current political ideology. Traditional parties are now becoming afraid of democracy because the ideas and truths they have grown up with are being rejected by the electorate. Industrial jobs are neither here nor there. In GDP terms, our country is richer than it was twenty years ago, yet people feel poorer. They feel marginalised and that life is getting worse and they are angry (don't you feel it too?). It doesn't seem to me that by voting for parties like UKIP they are advocating a Marxist revolution, but perhaps you know something I don't.

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Perhaps you could explain exactly what you think you're going to do?

'Rise up, brothers, and seize the means of production!' - uh, it's in China. Good luck with that.

Steal the money from the EVIL 1%? You hand out to everyone so they can buy crap from China. Then what?

Print money so you can pay some people to dig holes, and others to fill them in?

What do you think you're going to achieve? Industrial jobs are going, and they're never coming back.

I think the point was that in a scenario where power is not completely hereditary or despotic and subject to some degree of popular mandate there will be a drift toward more 'extreme' (from the viewpoint of the current incumbents) parties. UKIP is a fairly benign eruption- but should the situation grow more extreme then this will clear a path for more extreme players.

So the scenario is not a choice between a Marxist revolution or the statue quo, it's a race between the ability of the status to quo to suppress political dissent and those parties-like UKIP- who harvest the discontent of the people on the wrong end of the neo liberal future.

I think it's clear now that Democracy is being viewed by the current elites as an increasingly dangerous toy to leave lying around and they are casting about for a way to remove it without being too blatant about it. Their attempts to paint UKIP as a fringe group of 'nutters and fruitcakes' is not working and their ability to manipulate the population via media is being undermined by the internet, if only because there are now too many channels to control and the target audience so diverse and fragmented.

So the question is; how do you enact policies in a democracy that serve the narrow interests of an Elite to the detriment of the masses without losing the power that secures the very advantages you are seeking to entrench?

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Bingo. The robot owners will be... us.

The industrial era is ending, and the need for people to sit in front of a machine pulling a lever for twelve hours a day ends with it. Which is a good thing, except to those who get a thrill from pulling a level for twelve hours a day.

And, yes, the next few decades will be as troublesome for many as the beginning of the industrial revolution, when people left the land for the new industrial cities. That's life.

Plus the largest shareholders these days are pension funds ... so it is us again ...

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