Sometimes, I think we’re all in agreement that student finances can be a little tough on occasion.  The Student Loans Company is hardly most efficient company in the world, rent prices are going up beyond the rate of inflation can allow… and, despite many paying £9,000 a year, yes you are going to have to pay to do your own printing.  Combine that with a social life and some draconian library fines, you might at some point begin to feel the pinch, as the weeks leading up to loan day (whenever it actually arrives) involve no going out, a diet of baked beans and endless nights of watching re-runs of Game of Thrones.  You get the idea.

Recently it sadly emerged that some students were having to resort to using food banks to make sure that they had enough food to get them through the terms.  Unfortunately, this is one of those things that is becoming increasingly common up and down the country – really not acceptable.

Of course, many students have managed to find a way of making sure they can get a little extra money coming in – and that of course is through a part time job.

For the most part, this brings security to a student, especially as it brings in some money and adds a bit of experience to their CV.  For parents, it reduces the burden on them a little bit if they are having to supplement their kid’s finances from time to time.

For many students, part-time work can come from things like supermarkets to restaurants and bars and nightclubs.  Managers and supervisors are often more than happy to work around the pressures of studying to make sure that students can balance their lives out nicely.

One of the ways that bars and nightclubs do this is through the use of zero-hour contracts (ZHCs.)  In their most basic form, a ZHC is one where you are not contractually obliged to work a certain date and time every week – it means that the worker can be flexible in when they work.  Normally with a part-time job you have a set day you must be there and if you want any more you can pick up overtime.  With a ZHC, you aren’t tied into that.

In theory, that’s a good start.  It means that a student can pick up more hours if they have more time or have the need for more money, and less hours when they have a deadline approaching or if they want to travel home to see friends and family.  Of course, a workplace might ask them to work a certain amount in a week – it’s just up to the rota and the students to work out when they’re available.

In theory, this should work a treat.  However, I have worked under the conditions of a ZHC before and would like to enlighten you all with the dangers they possess for students.  They are incredibly dangerous for everyone, but especially for students, who find themselves under increasing pressure to find a way to pay the bills.

Firstly, you’ll find that, from my experience, managers may act all cool to the idea of ‘you can pick what you want’ but I never met a manager in my time who didn’t favour those who picked up more hours.  It didn’t matter about their worker’s competency because spaces were being filled and it meant that more people could get in the door (I used to work as a barman in a bar/nightclub.)

Suddenly, playing favourites doesn’t just mean a more likely possibility of promotion, but it also means they were always in line to get first pick on the extras.  All of the sudden, the favourites are doing even more than you are, increasing the gap in relationships.  And so the spiral begins.  Basically, if you risked your education you got more money and more chances to impress.  Not something you ever want to get into.

I worked in that bar in Lincoln for a semester at basically minimum wage – there were better rates of pay for those higher up but you had to be in the manager’s good books to be even considered for it – you find yourself struggling away with limited pay and hours whilst those who put their university degree on the back burner for a bit enjoy a quick rise to the top. In a ‘student bar and venue’, surely that was missing the point for those students?  Yes, so some extra money was needed… but even the managers claimed that your education was the top priority.  Evidently not.

The worst thing for me was the way it ended.  Because you’re not contractually tied to any hours, you basically have no rights to your employment.  If your work found they had any excuse to get rid of you, they did.

For me it was simply because they had taken on too many people at once and there weren’t enough hours to go round so that everyone could do three shifts a week.  They chose the person who hadn’t picked up much more than the 3 shifts required (there’s that caring about the education) and wrapped it up in an excuse.  Bang, booted out through the door.  You’re not tied to anything, and you could lose your job for no reason.

What’s even more shocking is that there are Student Unions out there who are not only failing to discourage students from the dangers of these contracts – despite warnings from the government and the chancellor about their effectiveness – but my Student Union – Lincoln Student’s Union – is actively advertising and even operating them. I could get a job in a bar or even in their office under such shocking contractual terms.  It is nothing more than taking advantage of students and their need for money… all whilst they can get a fresh face on the desk every six months without having to care about the working rights of the poor guy/girl who has worked hard in the first place.

I urge you to think very carefully before you choose to take up one for work.  Yes, the flexibility is tempting.  However, in the long term, there is no security for you.  You’re honestly better off finding something in a supermarket, where the hours are the same each week and you can talk to someone about swapping without being prejudiced.

Please people, don’t support them.




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