Action is needed to end the use of exploitative zero-hours contracts

I’ve spoken previously on the issue of zero-hours contracts, and the huge difficulties and financial insecurities they can cause for people employed on this basis.

SDCROPPED July 2012 041I’ve heard from many constituents across Cardiff and Penarth about problems they face as a result of the contracts – like not being able to plan financially from one week to the next, and the knock-on effects on household budgets and paying bills; and of course how the uncertainty over hours can affect the ability to find childcare.

So I’m proud that Labour leader Ed Miliband has announced our intention to act to end the use of exploitative zero-hours contracts across the UK, if we return to government in 2015.

Analysis from the Office of National Statistics shows a three-fold increase in the number of workers on zero-hours contracts since 2010. Some studies suggest over a million workers could be on contracts offering no guaranteed hours or income. Meanwhile a report by the TUC found that 57.6% of workers on zero-hours contracts outside London earn less than the living wage of £7.65 an hour, and two in five reported having no ‘usual’ amount of pay.

The figures from the ONS and the TUC show that since David Cameron became Prime Minister, there has been a huge increase in the number of people on zero-hours contracts. It’s all very well trumpeting new jobs – and we all rightly welcome any drop in unemployment – but without telling us where and on what terms those jobs exist, we simply don’t have the full picture.

Zero hours, minimum wage and part-time replacements for better-paid, full-time jobs with decent conditions are not a like-for-like comparison. Labour is clear that we will outlaw zero-hours contracts where they exploit people, ensuring people at work are protected and get a fair deal.

We want to see new legal rights for employees on zero-hours contracts, including the right to demand a fixed-hours contract when they have worked regular hours over six months with the same employer; the right to receive a fixed-hours contract automatically when they have worked regular hours over a year (unless they decide to opt out); and the right to be protected from employers forcing them to be available at all hours, insisting they cannot work for anyone else, or cancelling shifts at short notice without compensation.

These measures will improve living standards and help businesses build a more productive, successful economy across the UK – and it’s time the Tory/Lib-Dem government matched our plans.

*  Stephen writes his weekly View from Westminster column for the Penarth Times (www.penarthtimes.co.uk) – this column was printed on May 8, 2014.

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