Labour’s conference is only going ahead
because of zero-hours contracts

You may not have followed this latest saga, so let me explain: Last year the Labour NEC voted to boycott G4S, the usual provider of its conference security. This boycott is its own story of ridiculous anti-Israel sentiment within the Labour Party: the NEC voted to boycott G4S because it provided metal detectors and security guards to help protect Israeli citizens.

So the party put its conference security out to tender – receiving only one application (three other companies declined to apply). This application was from ShowSec, a security specialist which is also engaged in an on-going dispute with GMB, the union. Evidently GMB holds considerable sway in the Labour Party as its threat to boycott (sigh, so many boycotts) the conference if ShowSec were involved was taken seriously, plunging the conference into question. Eventually ShowSec also withdrew its application – it was really not worth the hassle.

But yesterday we heard that the Labour Party Conference was saved, phew!

OCS Group, which holds NHS cleaning contracts as well as providing security services, stepped up to the plate. The latest development is that OCS, in common with many other security companies, maintains a pool of staff on zero hours contracts.

Oops. That’s a bit awkward, because Labour is firmly against zero hour contracts and Jeremy Corbyn has pledged to ban them.

This is despite 65% of people on zero hours contracts being ‘satisfied’ or ‘very satisfied’ with their contract. Zero hours contracts are enjoyed by two core groups: women with children and people in full time education. Both of these groups appreciate flexibility, being able to work more or less depending on school holidays, child sickness, exams, and all the other things that make full time work with your young children or whilst at university difficult.

Employers use zero hours contracts for a few reasons, chief among them the uncertainty of market conditions – especially during tentative expansion – where the alternative to a zero hours contract is not a guaranteed hours contract: it is no job at all. The second type of employer that uses zero hours contracts is where work ebbs and flows, with busy and less busy times or work that depends on securing contracts to deliver – like OCS.

What’s really quite amusing is that if OCS didn’t use zero hour contracts (or they were banned), the company would be very unlikely to be able to fulfill Labour’s security requirements. It was hard enough to find OCS to deliver security – imagine how much harder it would be to find a company with perhaps a hundred or more people employed to sit around doing nothing on the off chance that work was found. It just wouldn’t happen.

I would go so far as to say that the only reason OCS is able to step up and help Labour in this difficult time is because it maintains a pool of zero hours contract workers who will now have the opportunity to accept or turn down a few days’ work in Liverpool this September.

That, and an OCS management team that feels capable of drawing up complex security plans in a short space of time and doesn’t mind the amount of media attention it is about to attract around its working practices. Best of luck to them!