Unions sack kids?

There has been an early-campaign media flurry over the six teenagers who lost their two-hour after school shifts because “union rules say they have to work at least three hours”.  But there is nothing to prevent these kids from working only two hours, apart from the refusal of their employers to pay them for three.

“Minimum call” provisions are standard for any casual employment, and serve as a flagfall to ensure workers are fairly paid for inconveniently short or split shifts. They do not stipulate a minimum shift duration, but a minimum payment.

Nonetheless, this furphy has prompted some more general assertions about “rigidity” in the labour market.

Many comparative studies have been done on this subject (typical is one from the Journal of Economic Perspectives vol 11, no 3, 1997). They find that strict employment protection, labour market legislation and high unionization – provided it is in a context of co-ordinated bargaining with employer organisations, as we now have – do not cause unemployment.

Employers do not hire as many people as they can afford, but as many as they need to meet demand. Obviously they will try to minimise cost by opposing any regulation – each individual employer will want their staff cheap but their customers well-paid (by someone else!) – but that doesn’t mean that we should accept this as valid economics.

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