‘BAN ZERO-HOURS CONTRACTS’ – demands McCluskey as numbers soar to 1.8 million

Young Socialists lobbying the Bournemouth TUC Congress demanding No Zero-Hours contracts
Young Socialists lobbying the Bournemouth TUC Congress demanding No Zero-Hours contracts

ALMOST 700,000 people say their main employment is on a zero-hours contract, an increase of 111,000 on the previous year, according to a report out on Wednesday.

The Office For National Statistics (ONS) report shows that the number of zero-hours contracts being used by employers has increased to 1.8 million.

The analysis of zero-hours contracts from the ONS says 2.3% of people in employment surveyed between October and December 2014 said they were on a zero-hours contract, up from 1.3% over the same period in 2013.

The report says that more than one in four educational institutions (27%) use zero-hours contracts.

The University and College Union (UCU) said its own findings revealed the widespread use of zero-hours contracts in universities and colleges.

On average, someone on a zero-hours contract usually works 25 hours a week, but a third of people (34%) on zero-hours contracts want more hours, compared to just one in 10 (10%) of other people in employment.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: ‘We simply do not buy the lie that zero-hours contracts are good for employers and employees.

‘Today’s report shows that a third of people on these pernicious contracts want more hours. The use of zero-hours and other forms of casualised contracts in education is one of the great scandals of our time.

‘Without a proper contract staff cannot plan their lives on a month-to-month or even a week-to-week basis.

‘People on zero-hours contracts are more likely to be women, in full-time education or working part-time. They are also more likely to be aged under 25 or 65 and over.

‘The latest ONS survey of businesses indicates that there are actually 1.8m zero-hours contracts. The ONS says this can be accounted for by people who have more than one zero-hours contract with different employers or who have a zero-hours contract as well as another job.’

GMB General Secretary Paul Kenny, said: ‘There are nearly 700,000 workers each week that have no guaranteed hours of work while working on average 25 hours per week.

‘What employers are offering workers has seriously decreased while workers often have little alternative but to accept what is on offer.

‘Even skilled workers in the UK face being undercut while wages are stagnant or falling in real terms.

‘There are fundamental problems about Europe that we have to face up to.

‘Whatever the European vision was on integration, harmony, economic advancement and political stability, what we currently have isn’t it.

‘The free movement of labour and the single market were to be balanced by the social charter where all the people of Europe would live in freedom and with those in the poorer economies benefitting from the harmonisation of standards across all member states.

‘There were to be standards on workers’ protection, TUPE, excessive hours, health & safety, information and consultation and so many others were meant to keep labour exploitation in check. That dream has been chipped away at for years.

‘Right-wing governments and employers have engineered massive change in the direction of the EU vision. Judgements in the European Courts like Viking and Laval were the green light to massive assaults on organised labour across Europe, but especially in the UK.

‘From Lindsey Oil refinery to food production we have seen workers recruited in certain member states by agencies and exploited.

‘They were shipped in “literally” in order to undermine the terms and conditions of existing workers on those contracts. Both sets of workers have been let down by UK Government, the EU Commission and the European Court.

On exploitation – don’t blame the exploited; damn those who exploit. This has been repeated up and down the country over recent years. And that is part of the discontent that UKIP turn into xenophobic rhetoric to win votes.

‘Look past the simplistic tag and face the challenge of exploitation. Let’s reach out to those migrant workers not attack them, but organise and protect them.’

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: ‘Zero-hours contracts became more popular during the recession when employers sought to keep a lid on their costs and people were so desperate they’d take any work they could get.

‘But rather than see a decline in the use of these casual contracts as the economy improved, today’s figures show zero-hours are booming.

‘In fact, this way of working has now become standard practice in the social care sector. This is bad news for social care workers and the elderly and disabled people they care for.

‘They are now more likely to be cared for by a procession of strangers because the advent of zero-hours means their carers no longer have regular schedules.

‘There’s no doubt that zero-hours suit a small number of workers but for most this way of working is far from ideal.

‘These Victorian-style contracts put all the power with the employer, leaving individuals with no idea how many hours or how much money they’re getting from one week to the next.

‘This plays havoc with family budgets and makes paying bills and applying for loans, mortgages and tenancy agreements nigh on impossible.

‘Spending cuts have admittedly made life tough for public sector employers, but they should be leading by example – not ducking their commissioning responsibilities.

‘Any local authority or NHS trust paying for services from local employers should be making sure that none of the successful bidders are exploiting zero-hours workers.’

Unite general secretary, Len McCluskey said: ‘These figures make an utter mockery of the government’s claim to have inspired a “jobs miracle”.

‘Ever increasing numbers of people are being forced into a hand-to-mouth existence with no guarantee of work, not knowing from one week to the next whether they will be able to pay the bills.

‘What the ONS figures do not reveal is that we also have record levels of self-employment in this country. Combined with this, the increase in zero-hours jobs exposes a labour market where insecure work is becoming an employment model of choice.

‘The prevalence of zero-hours work in bigger employers indicates that this rise is not so much about employers trying to weather the downturn, but more about businesses enjoying the freedom this form of employment affords them from the fundamental rights and decent wages that ought to accompany responsible employment.

‘An economy based on low paid insecure work shuts people out of the economy – you cannot hope for a home or save for the future when you don’t know if you will have a wage, let alone what it will be.

‘Such employment will not deliver the sustainable recovery our nation desperately needs. We need urgent, meaningful action to rebalance our economy.

‘A ban on zero-hours contracts and the return of collective bargaining must be the basic first steps to put a floor under the ever-falling living standards for millions in this country.’

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: ‘Zero-hours contracts sum up what has gone wrong in the modern workplace.

‘They shift almost all power from the worker and give it to their boss. Anyone on such a contract has no guarantee of any work from one day to another.

‘Put a foot wrong, and you can find yourself with little or no work. Employers often argue that they offer flexibility, but trying telling that to zero-hours workers who can’t get a mortgage or pay their rent.

‘In many sectors, especially social care, zero-hours contracts are used to drive down costs regardless of the impact on services and the workforce.’

TUC research shows that:

• Zero-hours workers earn £300 a week less, on average, than staff on permanent contracts.

• Two in five zero-hours workers are paid less than £111 a week and do not qualify for statutory sick pay.

• Short-term and insecure working patterns mean many zero-hours workers do not work continuously with one employer for two years.

As a result, many miss out on statutory redundancy pay, the right to return to their job after maternity leave and protection from unfair dismissal.