Guardian & Observer chapel branch of the
National Union of Journalists

Casuals and zero hours contracts

It has been again suggested publicly that casuals who work for the Guardian and Observer do so on zero-hours contracts. So what's the NUJ doing about it, you may well ask? For a start, we asked the union's legal officer if the accusation is true. According to his interpretation of a zero-hours contract, it would appear not; he says:

“There is no formal legal definition of a zero-hours contract, possibly because it is a comparatively recent concept.

“There are explanations of what it means, however, and I tend to prefer that given by the independent research organisation IDS, which is: ‘A zero-hours contract is one where a person is not contracted to work a set number of hours, and is only paid for the number of hours actually worked. While the employer does not guarantee any work, a common feature of these arrangements is that staff are expected to be on standby, and so are unable to look for work elsewhere’.”

Casuals who work here are not required to refuse work elsewhere while they wait for shifts at GNM. And if you have been put on standby in this way, we'd like to hear from you. The Department for Business, Innovation & Skills has highlighted four particular areas of concern.

• Exclusivity clauses which prevent people working for other companies;

• A lack of transparency which can mean people are unaware they may not be offered regular work;

• Uncertainty over how much people will be paid for the work they do;

• The fear that people will be penalised if they refuse work.

To the best of the chapel officials' knowledge, that is not the case here. Again, if any of those four points apply to you, get in touch with us asap.

As a chapel, we have repeatedly fought to reduce casualisation of the Guardian/Observer workforce. We particularly dislike the enforced break that casuals are forced to take to prevent them accruing employment rights, and this is one of the many things we will be talking to the management about (again) when we come to reconsider the house agreement. In fact, We have long believed there are casuals working here who have full employment rights – and we are always ready to arrange comprehensive legal advice for any NUJ member who wants to explore the issue further. But we do not believe GNM hires casuals on an unacceptable version of zero-hours contracts. The suggestion that we do, and turn a blind eye to this odious practice, can only damage the reputation of the chapel as a whole.

Brian Williams
(On behalf of the chapel officers)