McDonald’s is one of Britain’s biggest employers, employing 115 000 workers in over 1300 stores. It is also one of the biggest users of zero hours contracts.
However, following a series of protests over these contracts, the company has recently offered all its workers the choice of staying on ‘zero hours contracts’ or moving onto a fixed contract, with varying hours in length on offer (from 8 to 35 hours a week in line with the average hours they worked). (News article here.)
Based on an initial trial of 23 stores, McDonalds reported that 80% of the workers opted to remain on zero hours contracts, rather than shift to the guaranteed hours contracts.
Personally, I’m suspicious about this. It just doesn’t sound right that 80% of employees would choose to stay precariously employed.
Could it be that the offer of fixed-hours contracts weren’t that appealing – maybe they came with a total lack of flexibility, with workers only being allowed flexibility on zero hours contracts. Maybe the contracts offered some employees the kind of hours that they could not work – early mornings for those with children, for example. Again, a non-starter.
This would fit in some recent survey research conducted by McDonalds which revealed that
- 60% of people wanted to start earlier than 9 a.m.
- Nearly 60% saw flexibility as an important aspect of their job
- 50% of employees would rather work longer days 4 days a week and get a longer weekend.
(Based on a sample of 4000 people, 1000 of whom were McDonald’s employees.)
Or it could be that many of these workers were only getting an average of 16 hours a week or less, which is not enough hours for them, so having a guaranteed contract of 4, 8, or 16 hours, with the possibility of no additional hours, was not a viable option.
Of course, McDonalds are now bragging about the fact that they offer their workers the choice of guaranteed hours, or zero-hours contracts, but we don’t know is how viable those guaranteed hours contracts are for the workers offered them.
Personally, I’m suspicious. It’s probable that those fixed hours contracts had a combination of insufficient hours, or the wrong kind of fixed hours, and thus the workers offered them had no realistic choice at all!
Another thing McD’s may have done is deliberately select those stores with high numbers of people who want zero hours – those with a lot of further or higher education students working in them, for example, thus skewing the stats. (That’s what I would have advised them to do, if I was evil enough to work in the business of manipulative market research.)
In any case, this is a great example of some research that probably isn’t value free, and also a great example of biased media reporting.
If you like this sort of thing then you might like my summary of Mathew Taylor’s review of modern working practices, which very much focuses on flexibilization.