Zero-hour contracts must be a bit like having the worst boyfriend ever. It's that guy who wants his girlfriend on tap whenever it suits him with no thought at all for her wants or needs.

A zero-hour contract is where I employ you to be available whenever I require but I don't have to guarantee you any work. It betrays an attitude where one person assumes all the power and the other is forced to stick around through lack of options.

Zero-hour contracts have traditionally applied to low-paying jobs in places like fast food chains. A phrase that follows this topic around is "the country's most vulnerable workers".

It is easy to decide what is fair for society when you are the one making decisions from a position of comfort.

The Government has proposed changes to the laws around zero-hour contracts to give these workers more protection. The Labour Party and the Council of Trade Unions don't think the changes go far enough.


Sitting in the relative comfort of my middle-class upbringing, I find it sad the discussion needs to be had at all. Why would anyone set up conditions for their employees that are fundamentally unfair?

I am trying to imagine the kind of employer who thinks zero-hour contracts are a good idea. I imagine he is slightly overweight and has a new car he drives above the speed limit. He swings through the supermarket to buy a $30 bottle of wine and thinks nothing of it.

He has strong opinions about how the Government should support the interests of business owners and he shares them liberally when friends come around to throw a few scotch fillets on the barbeque.

I don't aspire to be that guy although I wouldn't mind his car and the scotch fillets. I am a middle-class father who went through university on a student loan and then got a job.

Along the way life happened, as it does for everyone, but despite the hardest moments I have never needed to stare real hardship in the face.

This zero-hours contract thing gets me thinking more critically about our society. It is uncomfortable thinking.

I have been following a series of single-page comics about privilege and inequality by Kiwi artist Toby Morris. It is called The Pencilsword. Look it up online, it's excellent.

Image/The Wireless
Image/The Wireless

In On a plate, Morris compares two children: Richard, whose parents are doing okay; and Paula, whose parents are struggling. The comic tracks the little inequalities in their respective circumstances that lead to Richard assuming he has earned his good fortune all by himself. "Less whinging, more hard work I say."


It is easy to decide what is fair for society when you are the one making decisions from a position of comfort.

In The Wealth Tower, Morris represents all the wealth here as a 10-storey building. In this scenario, the richest 10 per cent own the top half of the tower. The poorest 50 per cent is crammed into just half of the ground floor.

I find that statistic confusing, shameful and disheartening all at once. Is this really the country I live in? If we are all part of the same national community then surely this is my responsibility as much as anyone else's. But what can I do?

Bay of Plenty Times columnist Marcel Currin.
Bay of Plenty Times columnist Marcel Currin.

Morris ends The Wealth Tower with: "When you come across something really wrong in life you have two choices. Ignore it and walk away, or get help and start fixing it."

He concludes: "This is me yelling for help."

The rich worry about whatever it is they worry about. Those of us in the middle worry about whether to subscribe to Netflix or Lightbox.

Meanwhile there are people who worry about living week to week. I don't think anyone should be comfortable with that.

Marcel Currin is a Tauranga writer and poet.