Unions roundly condemn the news 1.8 workers in the UK are now on zero hours contracts

Zero hour contracts protestUnions have roundly condemned the news that 1.8m people in the UK are now on zero hours contracts.

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.

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.”

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.”

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 people they care for.

“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.”

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.”


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Tim Lezard

Campaigning journalist, editor of @Union_NewsUK, NUJ exec member; lover of cricket, football, cycling, theatre and dodgy punk bands

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