A recent trial conducted by McDonald’s in the UK which offered employees a chance to move from zero hour to guaranteed minimum hour contracts only saw 20% of the staff take the opportunity. This is part of a bigger effort by the company in the UK and New Zealand to provide employees an alternative to politically contentious zero hour contracts.
McDonald’s and its franchisees use flexible contracts in many countries, and these have attracted criticism for not providing employees basic benefits such as health, pension and life insurance, forcing the state to subsidise precarious workers. In Brazil, franchisee Arcos Dourados was fined €2 million for violations including flexible work schedules.
The trial, which took place in the context of protests by employees throughout the UK, offered all staff in St Helens, Merseyside the choice of 4, 16 or 30 hours a week guaranteed. There are plans to expand a similar policy to the whole of the UK.
What does it mean that only a small minority of staff chose to take up a minimum hour contract? It is important to look at the demographic of McDonalds workers: in the UK 42% of staff are under 21 years, and 20 is the average age. While zero hour contracts are treated often as exploitative, they seem to be attractive to young people in this case.
What do millennials stand to gain from zero hour contracts that older people do not? We might speak about flexibility, but what does this mean on the ground? Are younger people interested in working multiple and diverse jobs, or are they using zero hour contracts to support their living costs while at university? Is this seeming preference for zero hours part of a larger long-term reshaping of the labour market towards a ‘gig economy’?
It is also important to consider zero hour contracts in light of other working conditions. McDonalds in the UK has a policy whereby hours are scheduled ahead of time, and workers are free to engage in other employment. It will be interesting to track the uptake of fixed hour contracts as the policy is rolled out further.
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