Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 3 September 2014

What Katie did would have poor Karl rising up in revolt

Labour relations: Katie Hopkins' view on 'zero hours' contracts for workers would have Karl Marx spinning in his grave

Would you let your daughter marry somebody called Katie? I wouldn't. I would almost rather she was on a 'zero hours' contract.

Katie used to be a perfectly good name, raised no eyebrows, or anything else. Then along came Katie Hopkins, star of that television programme The Apprentice, which would insult the intelligence of a gnat. Or maybe it's Katie Price I'm thinking of, who used to be known as Jordan.

Whatever. She's Katie and she isn't the sharpest pin in the haystack, which, of course, is no impediment to success in The Apprentice, the last two finalists having been dorks. Same as all who had gone before.

The other reason I wouldn't want my daughter – or son, for that matter – marrying a Katie is that the Katie who has come to define Katieness is an addict and – call us uncool if you like – we are not having one of them in the family.

Ever since her starring stint in the second most-overhyped programme in the history of television – edged out of top spot only by the risible The Fall – she has been experiencing cold sweats and trembling heebie-jeebies any time she doesn't spark enough controversy on a breakfast programme to ensure that she's invited on to a later programme to explain herself.

That sort of addiction could destroy a family. I tell the coming generation to steer clear of such dangerous fodder and indulge only in relatively benign and non-addictive habits, such as nibbling goat's cheese and smoking marijuana.

Katie has recently been back on the tabloid front pages, explaining that she won't have her children playing with infants called Charmaine, or Tyler, wouldn't employ an overweight person and shrinks from the sight of tattoos and body-piercings – all giveaway signs of working-class origins and "being brought up with bad values".

Her own offspring are safe from deprivation of this sort, Katie having a five-strong squad of nannies ever at the ready (that's right, five) to save her from "tedious" tasks, such as taking the tots to the school play, or for swimming lessons.

She thinks that David Beckham and Lady Victoria have set up their son for raillery and skit in later life by giving him a placename, Brooklyn. By way of contrast, her own little India is set fair to achieve wonders.

Given all this, it makes perfect sense that Katie also believes "zero hours contracts make perfect sense" – on account of the fact that "they allow the employer to flex their staffing muscle according to the needs of the business and the whims of the customer".

The contracts guarantee the employer that the worker will be on permanent alert as required, but don't require the employer to guarantee that any work will actually be offered.

Or, to put it another way, belief in zero hours contracts and a tendency to see workers' rights as a contradiction in terms are two sides of the same, bent coin.

Katie continues: "Zero hours contracts dramatically reduce the number of days sick taken by an employee... Notice periods and unfair dismissal can be avoided. Wages are driven down, pension and sickness benefits are limited."

Until very recently, it was thought that the number of UK workers on zero hours contracts was around 200,000. Then the Office for National Statistics upped the estimate to 250,000.

Then a survey discovered that there are 300,000 care workers on zero hours contracts. This week, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development put the figure at one million – and rising.

These are great days for deregulation, ripping away red tape, setting wages and working conditions without interference from state bureaucrats, or bolshie trades unionists, allowing the cold blast of market forces to scour off any accretions of decency clogging the machinery of capitalism.

Guardian economics editor Larry Elliott suggested on Monday that the next logical steps might include the repeal of the 1874 Factory Act, banning under-10s from working in manufacture, rescinding the 1847 Ten Hours Act, restricting children's working hours, getting rid of the 1841 Mines Act, banning children from working down the pit and so on.

The parallel with the old 'button' system of casual docks work is striking. Perhaps young women could be put to unwaged work in, say, laundries run by charitable institutions? What was wrong with hiring fairs anyway?

Katie Hopkins regards workers on zero hours contracts as damned lucky to have any sort of work.

Marx would have seen them as a reserve army of labour with good reason to revolt.

Katie or Karl? We all have to make choices.

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