Thursday, 13 March 2014

Government proposals will fail to tackle abuse of zero-hours contracts

Government proposals to clamp down on the abuse of zero-hours contracts will fail to stem the widespread exploitation of workers, the TUC says today (Thursday) in its response to the government’s consultation.

The TUC submission highlights how zero-hours workers are dogged by low pay, under-employment, and job and income insecurity. Half of all zero-hours workers earn less than £15,000 a year (compared to 6 per cent of other employees) and two in five want to work more hours, according to recent research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).

Three-quarters of zero-hours workers report that their hours change each week. These varying hours – and the unstable, irregular income they provide – make it hard for staff to organise childcare, pay monthly bills and plan ahead, says the TUC.

The TUC is concerned that zero-hours contracts allow employers to evade basic employment rights such as maternity and paternity leave and redundancy pay, while some companies pressurise workers to remain available on the off-chance they will be offered work. None of the proposals contained in the government’s consultation deal with any of these problems, warns the TUC.

The TUC instead wants the government to introduce compensation, including travel costs, where shifts for zero-hours workers are cancelled at short notice, as well as written contracts with guaranteed hours where a zero-hours worker does regular shifts. The TUC would also like to see the government simplify employment law so that all workers get the same basic employment rights.

The submission supports the government’s proposal to ban exclusivity clauses – which prevent people from working for anyone else – in employment contracts, though this recommendation on its own will fail to meet the government’s stated aim of ending the abuse of zero-hours contracts.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The growth of zero-hours contracts, along with other forms of precarious employment, is a key reason why working people have seen their living standards worsen significantly in recent years.

“These contracts are commonly associated with poverty pay, poor terms and conditions, and leave staff vulnerable to exploitation from bad bosses.

“We welcomed the government’s belated acknowledgement last year that abuse of zero-hours contracts needs to be stopped. It’s disappointing therefore that they’ve failed to back this up with any meaningful policies to tackle exploitation.

“If the government wants to be on the side of hard-working people it needs to put proper policies in place to curb exploitative working practices, even if this means ruffling the feathers of a few business lobbyists.”

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