There has been a lot of discussion and organsising on zero hour contracts recently (see 1 | 2 ). We interviewed two people on zero hour contracts to illustrate that the problem of casualised labour is much wider than just the fast-food industry, where members of Unite union are currently fighting against these precarious work conditions.

:: Kia ora, a couple of years ago, you were ‘employed’ by a NZ university. Can you tell us about that?

Ae kia ora. Yes just over a year ago I received a panui about this university looking for research assistants so I applied. About two months later it was arranged for me to attend an interview. I went to that city and attended a hui at a fancy kind of pub where the proposed research project was discussed with the relevant project organisers and some new PhD students. I realised after some time that this wasn’t really an interview so asked what this process was. I was informed that I could have the job if I wanted it and they would send me the relevant paperwork for the contract. After quite a few emails the university finally sent through the contract and I signed it. After a few months I asked what was going on and was informed that someone would contact me. I had already contacted her several times and got no replies. I’ve now waited over a year for any actual work.

:: Why do you think universities have these zero hour contracts in place?

I presume now that they use contracts like this to secure funding and bump up their so-called EFTS that make them look as if they are employing more people than they actually are. From what I’ve seen of other projects and contracts with this university they receive very large ‘administration’ fees from funding arrangements.

:: How does it make you feel? You went to an interview, got selected, signed a contract and didn’t get a single dollar out of this!

Pretty pissed off. You know I’m trying to arrange to pay my bills and feed my son etc and you budget ahead thinking you’ll have money coming in and you don’t apply for other jobs because you think you already have one. It also makes you feel really used and unappreciated, wasting your time on pointless correspondence and CV preparation.

:: How do you relate to other workers, for example in the fast-food industry, who are currently fighting zero hour contracts?

Well, I only started hearing about what my contract is really called when I heard about the recent proposed zero hour contracts for doctors. So it’s all a bit new for my brain. Ideally I would like to get involved in this fight but in reality I’ve got another baby coming and bills to pay for a new rental place I’ve moved into and I just don’t want anything to do with this university now. I’ve chosen not to name the university because I’m still on their contract and am unsure whether I should get off it or use it to fight them. Any ideas?

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:: Hey, you have just signed a zero hour contract. Do you work in the fast-food industry?

No, I don’t. I have just started to work for a labour hiring company. The contracts there are totally casual. Basically, by signing the contract, the boss doesn’t agree to offer you any work, and you don’t agree to take any assignments offered.

:: How does that work in practice?

Well, if you want work, you have to let them know what days you want to work and then just ring up first thing in the morning and hopefully they have got something for you. But there are no guarantees at all that you will get any work. Some people work full-time on assignments lasting months and months. Basically, the middle-man, the labour hiring company, just takes another cut out of your wages. You are being exploited three times: by the boss, the other boss and the government. Other jobs are just for half a day and that’s it.

:: Sounds pretty stink.

It is if you are after full-time work and really depend on the money as your primary income. To be honest, I also quite like the flexibility and not being tied down with no holidays and no family time anymore. But I am lucky because I have another part-time job. But yeah, capitalism is a ruthless system of individualising, atomising and attempting to destroy what little collective spirit we still have. I heard a few years ago a union tried to organise amongst labour hiring workers. It is virtually impossible to get anywhere with contracts like these.

:: Have you followed the organising efforts against zero hour contract in the fast-food industry?

Yes, a little bit. It’s good to see workers organising against these vicious attacks from above. I suppose their situation though is quite different to hours. At least they are working for the same company shift after shift. For us, while we work for the same labour hiring company, we may have a different assignment every day working for another company. Those companies have no obligations to you, and nor does the labour hiring company. It’s pretty messed up.