16 June 2016

Precarity in the UK

'The Contract of Employment and the Paradoxes of Precarity' (Oxford Legal Studies Research Paper No. 37/2016) by Mark Freedland comments
In recent decades, and with increasing acceleration in the last ten years, the law and practice of the contract of employment in the United Kingdom have been dissolving themselves from a state in which a stable contract of employment represented the essential norm into a complex of precarious types of employment relation. This descent into precarity presents us with several legal and practical paradoxes. Perhaps the deepest of these is the emergence into a centrally prominent position of the so-called ‘zero-hours contract’ - a paradoxical development in the sense that, in many of its forms, this kind of employment relation should not be regarded as an employment contract at all. Another one consists of the abolition of mandatory retirement age in the name of control of age discrimination; ostensibly increasing the security of employment of the older worker, this measure, it will be argued, in fact makes employment more precarious than ever, effectively undermining the notion of ‘permanent employment’. This paper examines the legal bases, but also the profound social and economic consequences, of these ironical developments.