A Sunday Mirror investigation has revealed the shocking findings, which would see a worker on the minimum wage take home less than £19 a week.
Some of Britain’s biggest high street stores are paying staff as little as £19 a week on miserly short-hours contracts.
Many working for our major retailers are employed on deals guaranteeing as little as three hours of work a week, a Sunday Mirror investigation has found.
On the minimum wage of £6.31 an hour that would add up to weekly pay of just £18.93 for the minimum three hours.
And even if they work many more hours than that minimum in an average week, some employees are still entitled to just three hours worth of holiday pay when they take a week off.
Companies claim the contracts give working mothers, students or pensioners flexibility. But union research reveals half of those on contracts of less than eight hours a week are desperate for more work.
Staff interviewed by the Sunday Mirror told of people desperately waiting for a call or text offering extra shifts or even queuing up for them.
One Tesco worker, who did not want to be named, said: “Notices go up offering the extra hours available and there’s always a raft of people waiting to sign.”
The mother-of-one, from Cottingham, East Riding of Yorkshire, added: “It’s on a first-come, first-served basis so there’s a bit of rivalry to get on the list. Occasionally, we might get a text offering us more hours.”
The scandal of zero-hours contracts – under which more than 1.4million workers must be available to work with no guarantee they will get shifts – has been widely exposed. But our investigation is the first detailed research into short hours.
Many employers offering short hours, say the contracts fit around staff needs. But the Unite union claims they are a way to cut costs for firms.
Assistant general secretary Steve Turner said: “Zero hours or short hours, it’s all the same in terms of absolute abuse of a workforce. We recognise that some people might want to work just a few hours a week but in most cases the flexibility is a one-way street and lies with the companies.
“This is a corporate UK which believes it can treat people terribly, particularly the young. Like those on zero-hour contracts, those given short contracts have no knowledge of what extra time they will be called to work.
“They are either sitting at home waiting for a text or scared to turn hours down in case they aren’t offered any again.”
Unite claims companies use short contracts to avoid paying National Insurance. Firms must pay NI contributions for every employee earning more than £136 a week.
Mr Turner said: “It’s preferable for companies to take on two short-hour workers than a full-time employee they would have to pay NI contributions for. This means benefits such as pensions and maternity pay are affected.”
The Sunday Mirror investigated firms across the UK and found that Argos and Homebase have some staff on contracts as short as three hours a week. Tesco’s shortest contracts are just three-and-a-half hours.
Arcadia group, which encompases fashion stores Burton, Dorothy Perkins, Evans, Miss Selfridge, Topman, Topshop, Wallis and BHS use four-hour contracts. Currys, PC World and Next use six hours.
The GMB union claims many of the short contract jobs are full-time posts which have been sliced up.
National officer Kamaljeet Jandu said: “We believe short-hour contract jobs are not new jobs, but old positions that have been broken up. It’s job splitting.
“We feel this is partly so employers can avoid National Insurance contributions.
“The impact of these contracts is the same as the zero-hour arrangement where there is no guarantee of when you will be working or income. That has a tremendous impact on family life.
“A lot of people on three or four-hour contracts will only be entitled to three or four hours’ pay on a week off.”
A recent study showed that 40 per cent of people without full-time jobs want more hours.
The figures, from Markit, expose the truth behind company claims that flexibility is a lifestyle choice for mums, students or retired people.
The research is backed up in another report by retail workers’ union Usdaw. Half of their members on short-hours contracts regularly worked overtime, some doing as much as 16 hours a week extra.
And three-quarters of those want the security of guaranteed shifts. The union also attacked the Government for failing to tackle short hours arrangements.
Usdaw general secretary John Hannett said: “The coalition Government has continually underestimated the numbers of zero-hours contracts. They have launched consultations and reviews and this has become an excuse for inaction. Their failure to act has given the worst employers a green light to exploit vulnerable workers.
For many Usdaw members short-hours contracts and under-employment are even bigger concerns. The Government is quick to advertise small falls in unemployment but fail to mention the problem of under-employment.
“Short-hours contracts suit some but a far greater number are struggling to get the hours they need to support themselves and their families.”
Companies defended the contracts, insisting they offer flexibility to staff. Tesco said: “We do not use zero-hours contracts and of our 300,000 colleagues a fraction of one per cent are contracted for less than five hours a week.
“Most of the people working these short hours are in full-time education or have chosen to work a few hours a week after reaching retirement age.
“The vast majority of colleagues are on contracts of 16 hours a week or more.”
Dixons Retail, which owns Currys and PC World and recently agreed a £3.8billion merger with Carphone Warehouse, admitted using six-hour contracts.
But a spokesman said: “Hours are confirmed with colleagues well in advance and regularly reviewed.”
A spokeswoman for Argos and Homebase said: “We employ staff with fixed-hour contracts to ensure they have regular core hours to maintain their skills in the workplace.
“Some of our workforce have a preference for more flexible working hours which enables them to fit work around their home lives.”
A spokeswoman for Arcadia, which owns BHS, Burton Menswear, Dorothy Perkins, Evans, Miss Selfridge, Wallis, Topshop and Topman said: “We offer contracts according to the needs of the store so they vary.”
Next said: “Our contracts are all about flexibility for the employee.
“The minimum contract is six hours because that’s the number of hours some employees want to work.
“The average that people work is much more than that and there is no cap on the maximum number of hours which can be worked.”
Short-hours jobs are available all over the UK but very few job adverts give exact details of the contract on offer.
Companies use words such as “must be available” at certain times or give a shift pattern without revealing exactly how many hours employees will be given.
Almost all vacancies can only be applied for online so job-seekers have little knowledge of exactly what they are applying for or what the rate of pay is. We called stores to ask for more details but only Tesco and Next staff could help.
Here are jobs advertised by companies which use short-hours contracts:
Currys PC World
JOB: Sales adviser
WHERE: Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland
CONTRACT: Between eight and 30 hours.
DETAILS: Candidates should be available to work Mon–Fri 9am–8pm, Sat 9am–6pm, Sun 10.30am–4.30pm
JOB: Customer delivery assistant
WHERE: Launceston, Cornwall
CONTRACT: Temporary (flexible)
DETAILS: Shift pattern: Sun 5.45pm- 10pm, Mon 9am-7pm, Fri 7am-11am
- We called customer services as a mum of two. An adviser said: “It will probably be a four-hour contract upwards. The shift pattern means you could be called in at any of those times and must be available. I can’t advise you whether you should apply, but if you don’t have child care for those shift patterns I would personally say it’s not for you.”
JOB: Sales consultant (£5.18-£6.33ph)
WHERE: Leeds Trinity Shopping Centre
CONTRACT: Eight hours, part-time (temporary)
DETAILS: Important: Contract shifts are subject to the availability stated within your application, therefore shifts will change each day and each week. Actual shifts are confirmed two weeks in advance. As a minimum, your contracted hours will always be scheduled each week.
- We called the store and were told: “It’s mostly flexitime work and short-hour contracts. Your contract will probably guarantee eight or 12 hours. You will have to work when the store wants you to.”
JOB: Working in chilled products
WHERE: Long Eaton, Derbyshire
CONTRACT: Permanent, part-time, 10 hours a week
DETAILS: Shift pattern, evenings
- When we called Asda we were referred to the website for job applications.
JOB: Driver (£6.35 ph)
WHERE: Hamilton, Lanarkshire
CONTRACT DETAILS: Nine hours
DETAILS: You need to be prepared to work weekends and start as early as 6am, potentially earlier during peak periods. While the contract is for nine hours per week, we need you to be flexible and able to work additional hours on a regular basis if required.
- When we called Argos we were referred to the website.
Outfit (part of the Arcadia group)
JOB: Sales adviser
WHERE: Various stores
CONTRACT: No information given
DETAILS: Competitive hourly rate + bonus + benefits
Opinion: Firms save thousands in NI payments
By Kelly Griffiths, Employment law expert at Backhouse Solicitors
When working well, short-time contracts provide flexibility for both employers and employees and can be a great way for students, retired people and people with families to earn some extra money. For others they can be a nightmare when things go wrong.
In order to qualify for benefits such as statutory maternity pay, statutory paternity pay and statutory sick pay, an employee has to be earning at least £111 a week which can be difficult with this type of contract.
The low level of guaranteed wages may make it difficult to budget and to obtain credit or a mortgage, all of which can lead to increased risk of debt problems. While employees may wish to work more hours this is not always an attractive option for employers.
If an employee is earning under £663 per month the employer is not required to pay National Insurance – a large corporation can save thousands of pounds.
It is for that reason many find themselves restricted to a few hours per week with no ability to earn the money required to meet their household needs.
Little is known about the number of people who work under this type of contract but we could be looking at hundreds of thousands.
It seems further consultation is needed, to help the employees stuck with these contracts and to address the loophole which allows large corporations to avoid paying National Insurance.
Source – Sunday Mirror, 31 May 2014