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140507choice

Isn’t it nice to see some clear blue water emerge between the main political parties on an important issue?

Less than two weeks after Ed Miliband announced that he would tackle the “epidemic” of zero-hours contracts if Labour wins the next general election, the Conservatives have confirmed that Universal Credit – if they can ever get it working – will force jobseekers into those very contracts.

Labour said workers on zero-hours contracts should not be obliged to be available outside contracted hours; be free to work for other employers; have a right to compensation if shifts are cancelled at short notice; have ‘clarity’ from their employer about their employment status, terms and conditions; have the right to request a contract with a ‘minimum amount of work’ after six months, that could only be refused if employers could prove their business could not operate any other way; and have an automatic right to a fixed-hours contract after 12 months with the same employer.

At the time, the Tories said the number of zero-hours contracts had increased under the last Labour government, which had done nothing about it.

This tired excuse has been trotted out far too many times to be taken seriously any more, but it may have led some members of the public to believe that the Tories were distancing themselves from zero-hours contracts as well. They are, after all, supposed to be The Party of More Choice. Perhaps they are, themselves, less than keen on this kind of exploitation.

Not a bit of it!

The Guardian revealed yesterday that conditions will be imposed on the receipt of Universal Credit, meaning that – for the first time ever – jobseekers could lose their benefits if they refuse to take zero-hour jobs – for three months or longer.

Currently, people on Jobseekers’ Allowance are able to refuse such jobs without facing penalties.

The policy change was revealed in a letter from employment minister Esther McVey to Labour MP Sheila Gilmore. She said Job Centre “coaches” would be able to “mandate to zero-hours contracts” – basically forcing them to accept this kind of exploitation by employers.

The DWP has also stated: “We expect claimants to do all they reasonably can to look for and move into paid work. If a claimant turns down a particular vacancy (including zero-hours contract jobs) a sanction may be applied.”

The message from the Conservatives – the Party of More Choice – is clear: Beggars can’t be choosers.

Their chums on the boards of big businesses want more profits, and know the way to get it – employ people on low pay and with no employee benefits. Zero-hours contracts mean you can be made to work fewer hours than you need in order for employers to have to pay National Insurance credits for you. You don’t get sick pay; holiday pay; or a pension. And you’ll probably still be on benefits, meaning the work that you do is subsidised by other hardworking taxpayers, most of whom earn only a little more than you do.

It’s a racket – as bad as workfare/mandatory work activity/the work programme/whatever-they’re-calling-it-today, in which taxpayers subsidise work carried out by jobseekers for participating employers, hugely boosting those firms’ profits while ensuring that the number of people without proper, paid jobs remains high.

Their attitude is that, if you don’t have a job, you are a beggar.

Beggars can’t be choosers.

So they’ll choose what you do, and they – or their boardroom chums – will benefit from it.

If you are a working taxpayer, think about this before casting your vote later this month – and especially before you do so in May 2015: A vote for the Conservative Party means more of your fellow citizens will be prevented from getting proper jobs and becoming contributing members of society by the greedy – and idle – rich.

A vote for the Conservative Party means more of your tax money going to subsidise fat business board members who already have more money than they can ever use.

A vote for the Conservative Party means a better life for them and their friends – and a poorer life for you.

You’d have to be mad to choose that.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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