UNITE, Britain’s biggest union, says urgent action is needed to stop the growth of the zero-hours culture as new figures show the use of these contracts is 25 per cent higher than previously thought.
A new report from the ONS (Office for National Statistics) has shown that 250,000 people in the UK were on zero-hours contracts at the end of last year.
The increase is due to a change in the way the figures are calculated.
Unite believes that in general, zero-hours contracts are unfair, creating insecurity and exploitation for many ordinary people struggling to get by.
It says: ‘They are one of many forms of underemployment blighting the British economy.
‘Employers use them to cut wages, avoid holiday pay, pensions, or other benefits enjoyed by employees and agency staff.
‘Unite members report that in low paying sectors, such as docks, retail, catering and social care, where such precarious work is increasingly becoming the norm, these arrangements serve to trap workers in poverty and exploitation.’
Unite general secretary, Len McCluskey said: ‘The growth of zero-hours contracts is blighting this country. A quarter of a million working people do not know from one day to the next if they will be working or earning.
‘How can they improve their lives if this is all the government has to offer?
‘The revelations that 90 per cent of Sports Direct workers are on zero-hours has alerted the public to this growing problem.
‘Plus our evidence shows there is no part of the economy which is safe from this practice.
‘There is no doubt that pressure is going to build on this government to act to end this pernicious practice.
‘The government should not wait to be convinced.
‘There needs to be an urgent change in the law to stop employers exploiting workers by trapping them in a life of insecure work and poverty.’
Over 500 Communication Workers Union (CWU) reps at a Policy Forum in central London last Wednesday and Thursday spoke out against zero-hours contracts.
They voted to ballot for a national strike if no agreement is reached for a ten-year guarantee from Royal Mail on on members’ terms and conditions.
The CWU is demanding ‘no franchising’ and ‘no outsourcing’, and for ‘all employees to remain directly employed under CWU-negotiated terms and conditions’.
It wants ‘existing job security agreements to remain in place’ and ‘no zero-hours contracts’, ‘no two-tier terms and conditions’ and that ‘the workforce would remain predominately full time with a 75/25 split with measures agreed to monitor this practice.’
Public sector union Unison says the rise in zero-hours contracts shames councils and hits elderly and vulnerable people.
It said that 97% of all councils are using contracts which don’t guarantee care providers any work from one week to the next.
Councils are commissioning care from over 100 providers, which fuels the use of zero-hours contracts.
The rise in the use of zero-hours contracts in homecare services is being fuelled by the way councils commission care and is leading to worse services for the elderly and some of the most vulnerable people in our society warns Unison.
It said: ‘The crisis in home care is being made worse by councils commissioning homecare from a huge number of private and voluntary sector providers on contracts that don’t guarantee them any work.
‘The way councils’ commission care means that they have a large numbers of contractors on their books but do not guarantee them specific hours from one week to the next.
‘This in turn fuels the use of zero-hours contracts for homecare workers, fuelling insecurity and low pay and causing high staff turnover in the sector.
‘This has a detrimental impact on services and in turn on the elderly and vulnerable people who rely on them.
‘This model of commissioning homecare leads to a decline in standards, which the union says is putting the elderly and vulnerable at risk on a daily basis.
‘As more and more private companies cut corners on care to protect profits, the union is putting pressure on councils to commission services in a way that safeguards basic standards.
‘Commissioning care from so many providers prevents councils having proper oversight of how contracts are run, how staff are treated, and most importantly the quality of services that are provided.
‘At the very least the union is calling on councils to adopt the union’s ethical care charter, which sets out basic terms and conditions for them to abide by when they commission homecare services.
‘Councils must also commission care from the number of providers that they can properly scrutinise’, says the union.
Freedom of Information requests for the union show that more than 50% of councils commission homecare from 20 plus providers.
More than 20 councils commission care from more than 50 providers, with nine buying in services from more than 100 private and voluntary sector organisations.
Out of 196 councils who have replied UK-wide, only six have either total in-house models or guaranteed hours for all their external problems, or 3%.
A further 31 (16%) use both block contracts and flexible contracts, with 81% of councils commissioning contracts where there is no guarantee at all of any hours to providers, which amounts to 97% overall not guarantee- ing hours to all of their providers.
Heather Wakefield, Unison head of local government, said: ‘The rise in zero-hours contacts in homecare shames councils and leads to worse care for our elderly and vulnerable. The elderly deserve better – much better – and so do homecare workers.
‘When councils commission care from a large number of providers there’s a greater chance that they won’t be guaranteeing care companies a set number of hours. This uncertainty is passed onto already low paid care workers in the form of zero-hours contracts.
‘Care workers on these terrible contracts don’t have any idea how much money they’ll take home from one week to the next. This fuels high staff turnover which has a hugely detrimental impact on service quality.
‘Councils no longer have proper insight into how homecare services are run.
‘Privatisation, huge budget cuts, a proliferation of providers, and a situation where councils can commission care from hundreds of different organisations has been synonymous with drastically declining standards.
‘This all adds up to putting elderly and vulnerable people at risk.
‘We want councils to look again at the way they commission homecare services.
‘We’ve drawn up an ethical care charter which sets out the minimum standards they should abide by when commissioning care services.
We’re facing an elderly care crisis in the UK and unless we take urgent action, things will only get worse.’
Instead of appealing to government and lobbying the Tory Party conference, trade unions must organise a general strike to bring down the coalition.
This will open the road to workers taking power and going forward to a workers government and socialism.
Trade union leaders who refuse to lead such a fight must be replaced.