LONDON — High Street bank Santander employs over 350 staff on contracts that guarantee them just 1 hour of work a week.
The Financial Times highlighted the practice in a report on Monday, underscoring the precarious edges of Britain’s booming job market.
Santander employs on-call customer service advisors on the contracts to provide short-notice cover for staff employed full-time in branches.
A job posting on the bank’s website for a position in Bromley, south London, says the role pays a pro rata salary of £17,666. The listing says:
“This is an ‘On call’ contract, offering flexible cover to local branches. You’ll be guaranteed and paid for at least one hour per month/12 hours per year. Additional hours will vary according to branch requirements and will most likely be a mix of pre-arranged and short-notice cover, so flexibility around hours and location is essential.”
The contracts are similar to the controversial zero-hours contracts that gained popularity in recent years. These contracts guarantee staff no fixed hours at all, leaving employers with complete control and employees with little certainty over earnings and their time management.
A spokesperson for Santander told the FT the bank does not offer zero hour contracts as its one-hour contracts offer “full employment rights with no obligation to accept additional hours or exclusivity.”
The spokesperson added that staff on these contracts “received the minimum training and updates required for our banking environment” and are treated in a “simple, personal and fair way.” People on the contracts on average work 386 hours a year, according to the bank, equivalent to almost 50 work 8-hour days a year.
However, the one-hour contracts highlight big changes that have occurred in Britain’s employment market since the financial crisis.
Unemployment has fallen to a multi-decade low of just 4.7%. But the fall has been driven by a rise in self-employment and short-term employment. The popularity of services such as Uber and Deliveroo, which both allow people to freelance as drivers, has given rise to the so-called “gig economy,” populated by workers who freelance on these kinds of networks.
Defenders of the gig economy argue that it gives people flexibility and more control over what they earn. However, opponents argue that it is often low-paid and offers a precarious lifeline, with no sick pay or holiday pay. Those people who rely fully on the gig economy — or zero hour contracts for that matter — are often just an illness away from falling into money trouble.
As well as potentially offering precarious employment, the gig economy and zero-hour contracts are also hurting the economy. Samuel Tombs, Chief UK Economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, argued recently that changes in the employment market are holding back wage growth in Britain, saying: “Many of the self-employed are not fully utilised and so represent “hidden” slack in the labour market, which will continue to depress wage growth.”
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