In recent weeks there’s been an increasing awareness of the rise of zero-hour working contracts – where staff have no guaranteed working hours and often go from week to week unable to predict their hours or income.
When, in July, I was selected as Labour’s PPC for Rugby, I was asked what my first private member’s bill would be when elected in 2015 – and I immediately said ‘A ban on zero-hour contracts’.
Since then we have discovered this malign employment contract is much more prevalent than anyone ever guessed – and it needs eradicating.
In June, in a striking report by the Resolution Foundation, the Office of National Statistics estimated over 200,000 people were on zero-hour contracts. Sports Direct has since been found to engage all its 20,000 part time employees on zero-hour contracts, and the health minister has admitted in the House of Commons that around 300,000 in the care industry are also affected.
A hastily run survey for the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development suggests it could be as many as one million people.
And a survey by Merseyside MPs, including Progress vice-chair Alison McGovern, suggests the use of these contracts is widespread and the range of employers is quite staggering.
Like many, I assumed their use was for young people who perhaps had lifestyles where the flexibility was really helpful so that they could fit in studying and earn some cash – but in the last two years that has all changed.
And, of course, it’s clear that it’s no longer just young people studying who are affected.
The prevalence in the care sector, retailing, hospitality, and security sectors, across the age range, is multiplying. Today the burden on young people managing their own finances and having to be ‘self-sufficient’ is far greater. The ‘any job is better than nothing’ climate means that employers are able to use zero-hour contracts with impunity.
It’s like going back in time to when workers had to queue outside a dockyard or factory and wait to see if they were given a day’s work – and all too often it’s down to the employee to complain – but won’t. Do we want to go back to those days?
If it is the case that employers need such flexibility then surely a minimum contracted hours is a better contract – after all, if employers don’t treat their workforce with respect and loyalty, how can they expect employees to rise to the challenges of the care industry, to be properly trained and developed, to have that ‘caring’ attitude that underpins the level of expertise, care and commitment we all expect as a basic safeguard?
So rather than bring in voluntary codes or ask the business secretary’s officials to do some quick research, let’s have a proper investigation into just how many people are on zero-hour contracts and just how expensive they really are – in terms of proper working relationships, lack of training and development, insecure employment where workers can’t pay their bills, have difficulty getting credit and finding housing – in short we don’t need zero-hour contracts.
Claire Edwards is Labour’s PCC for Rugby, which is seat 29 in the Frontline 40 seats that Labour needs to form a working majority in 2015
Progressive centre-ground Labour politics does not come for free.
Our work depends on you.