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From: The Socialist issue 919, 5 October 2016: Tories out!

Search site for keywords: Zero-hour contracts - Workers - Minimum wage - Barnsley

Asos workers fear taking toilet breaks, sacked for panic attacks

photo Guy Sie/Creative Commons

photo Guy Sie/Creative Commons   (Click to enlarge)

Karine Harvey, zero-hour contract worker

Workers at the warehouse of fashion retailer Asos are unable take toilet or drink breaks, in fear of not meeting their targets.

A three-month investigation by reporters at Buzzfeed revealed the shocking conditions.

Due to the increasing amount of pressure put onto the workers, one began experiencing panic attacks. This resulted in the termination of her employment at the Barnsley warehouse.

Other workers have commented on management deducting 15 minutes of pay even if they are only one minute late. The warehouse runs on a culture of fear.

With three and a half years of experience working on a minimum wage, zero-hour contract, I - and many people around me - have had very similar experiences to the Asos workers. The supposed 'flexibility' of working a zero-hour contract is a facade for the great anxiety and instability it inflicts on workers.

Colleagues of mine have been forced to look for other work as their hours were reduced to zero, with the fitting name of 'death by rota.' Due to our dependency on work and our complete expendability in our employers' eyes, they feel they have complete power over us.

When questioning whether I would be paid to attend a staff meeting, I was told to work somewhere else. When a colleague was told to work longer than his contracted hours but refused, he was told to "fuck off."

Are we really consenting to work? Or are we coerced?

What workers need is strong workplace organising, and a political voice. Collective action like strikes shows the bosses we're not so expendable as they think, and can win big improvements. And a party that fights for workers could ban zero-hour contracts.

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The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

The government has now ripped up its 'austerity' mantra and turned to policies that not long ago were denounced as socialist. But after the corona crisis, it will try to make the working class pay for it, by trying to claw back what has been given.

  • The Socialist Party's material is more vital than ever, so we can continue to report from workers who are fighting for better health and safety measures, against layoffs, for adequate staffing levels, etc.
  • When the health crisis subsides, we must be ready for the stormy events ahead and the need to arm workers' movements with a socialist programme - one which puts the health and needs of humanity before the profits of a few.
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