Letters: Zero hours takes us back to bad old days

These letters appear in the print edition of The Independent, 6 August, 2013

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It is suggested that the number of people working on a zero-hours basis is likely to be at least four times greater than official estimates would have us believe.

For any who lack historical knowledge, there was a time (not so long ago) when men lined up outside factory gates hoping to be employed on a day-to-day basis. So far as wages and conditions were concerned, the employee could take it or leave it.

The last to be employed and the first to be dismissed were those who belonged to unions and “troublemakers” who attempted to improve wages and conditions. The employer took on whomever they chose and dismissed whomever they pleased, with impunity.

The growing trend to substitute, by default, proper contracts with zero-hours employment is a deliberate attempt to return to those days when workers had no rights.

I suspect that we are considerably further down the road towards that destination than some would care to admit.

Robert Bottamley, Hedon, East Yorkshire

It’s good to see that the ethics of zero-hour contracts are being discussed. The zero-hour mentality is more widespread than official statistics may suggest.

Supply teachers often find themselves in a similar situation. They have a legal right to protest if their rates are beaten down, or if they are offered classroom assistant jobs when demand is low.

But while they technically have the right to turn down unsuitable work, it’s not in their best interests to do so.

They cannot predict their monthly or weekly income because there is no guarantee of a minimum amount of work.

Saraswati Narayan, Knaresborough, North Yorkshire

A greater level of ignorance and adherence to right-wing dogma, as expressed by Grant Shapps, is hard to imagine. Changing employment law to make sacking easier and cheaper for employers is totally wrong.

A high level of insecurity among employees does nothing to improve productivity. The need to use a hire-and-fire policy shows an appalling level of management inefficiency. Intelligent recruiting procedures and good team-building combined with sound market planning – ie, good management – are the only way to improve all areas of a business.

A manager should know if an employee is in the right job within three months of recruitment – if not, the manager is in the wrong job.

The right-wingers heading our Government show their true colours as they become even more arrogant.

Brian Willis, Snape Bridge, Suffolk

Boles: architect of a grey and unpleasant land

First, planning minister Nick Boles wanted to cover “boring” fields in concrete. Now (following the flop of the disastrously underfunded Portas Pilots) he has declared the high street “dead” and suggests turning it into housing, over the heads of local communities’ wishes.

On top of this council of despair, Eric Pickles is encouraging middle-class householders to tear up their front gardens and rent them out as car lots.

Bees and earthworms, eyes and lungs, go hang. 

In many towns, street trees have long been felled and most front gardens already destroyed due to the spread of the concrete cancer that is front-of-house parking.

The once celebrated notion of leafy suburbia is in its death throes thanks to Pickles’ latest brainwave.

Naturally, now that we are all becoming chairbound robots glued to plasma screens, who needs things like flowers, trees and independent shops in this brave new world?  

All this adds up to a dystopian vision of a vast plain of characterless greyness covering town and country, adorned only by cars, with people having nothing to do except stare at a computer screen, purchasing more cars.

Thanks to Boles and Pickles, England’s green and pleasant land, along with local shops and the cottage gardens beloved of generations of artists, are all to disappear under a blanket of hardcore.

Aldous Huxley is vindicated and Sir John Betjeman is turning in his grave.

Anthony Rodriguez, Staines

Nick Boles is to promote the idea of empty shop and commercial premises being converted back into housing. This will require serious funding. It saddens me that the Government has not embraced the recommendation of Mary Portas for a “town centre first” policy.

The Government’s new policy is good news in some of the regions, although it wouldn’t work everywhere.

In my short life, I have seen streets that have turned all properties to commercial use. In my infancy, it would have been only 10 out of 100. Many properties that were once large grand houses are now offices.

The big issue is parking. If residents are allowed to park outside their properties, conversion back into homes will be a success. Without on-street parking, these properties will become empty houses instead of empty commercial premises.

Of course, poor parking and vehicle access are responsible for killing our town-centre shops in the first place.

Nigel F Boddy, Darlington

We are backing future engineers

Contrary to comments reported in “Mega-projects facing cost hike on skills gap” (29 July), Crossrail is not facing an engineering skills shortage. Crossrail and Transport for London (TfL) are committed to investing in future engineers in the transport sector through the development of a number of opportunities.

Before construction commenced in 2009,  Crossrail identified a need to establish a dedicated academy to train the next generation of engineers and also to upskill people already working in the wider industry.

Crossrail has developed a £13m Tunnelling and Underground Construction Academy in Ilford which plays a leading role in supporting the Crossrail project, but will also support future projects such as the Northern Line extension, Thames Tideway and HS2.

TfL is also delivering a huge programme of investment to improve London’s transport network, and over the past three years TfL and its supply chain have created 3,283 apprenticeship roles which include London Underground engineering roles.

TfL is also one of four sponsors of the new University Technical College being set up in Greenwich, and TfL employees will be providing time and technical expertise to inspire future employees in engineering.

Terry Morgan CBE, Chairman, Crossrail Ltd

Mike Brown MVO, Managing Director,  London Underground and London Rail, TfL

Second-rate Great Western

Should First Great Western be renamed Second (Rate) Great Western following its nightmare service from Penzance to Paddington at the weekend which broke down for almost six hours, resulting in a journey time of nearly 12 hours.

We in Cornwall are appalled that the Government is investing millions on “improving” the A303 to Cornwall and desecrating the Cornish countryside by widening the A30.

Cornwall has been exploited and ruined by mass tourism. The road “improvements” have led to Cornwall being one long, bad-tempered traffic queue for hours on end at weekends and throughout the summer. Road improvements will suck in more traffic.

We need rail investment and have received none since the 1980s. We saw the results of this lack of investment at the weekend.

But I guess a second-rate rail service is OK for the Cornish, as second-home-owners use the roads.

Tim James, Penzance

Car hopes buried in a black box

My 19-year-old will shortly become a university student. While living at home and as an A-level student, she has been able to run a car thanks to part-time jobs.

With the forthcoming move and insurance due by the end of August, she has been getting some quotes online to see if it is possible to keep her car at home for the university holidays.

Herald the black-box: student/young driver pay-as-you-go insurance! But after entering all her details, the outcome was that her P-reg Nissan Micra was too old to have the black box fitted. What do insurance companies expect young people and students to drive?

Sigrid Marceau, Faversham, Kent

It’s unbelievable

‘Big lie’ behind the bedroom tax”, proclaims your front page (5 August). What? You lead me to believe that this Government does not tell the truth? Shock horror!

Next you will ask me to believe that those in power are trying to blame the poor for all our ills. Well, them plus all the foreigners who take every house and job in the land. You might even start claiming London boroughs are using housing shortages as opportunities to socially cleanse the city.

Ken Persaud, Surbiton

Who’s WHO

I’ve just looked up Peter Capaldi in the Internet Movie Database to remind myself what else he has been in. I see he was in World War Z. His role? WHO Doctor.

Paul Dormer, Guildford

Jobless mum?

Ramji Abinashi (letter, 5 August) suggests “Public Service” might have been a better description of occupation for the Duchess of Cambridge than “Princess of the UK”. When I heard it on the news,  I assumed it was just another Government-inspired euphemism for “unemployed and on benefits”.

Peter Coghlan, Broadstone, Dorset

“Princess of the United Kingdom”?

I would have thought, with a child in her arms, that “Housewife” would have been more accurate.

Chris Harding, Parkstone, Dorset

In bad taste

Test-tube burger? No thanks. Saw the film. It was called Soylent Green.

Keith Nolan, Carrick-on-Shannon, Co Leitrim, Ireland

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