Zero-hours crackdown plan unveiled by Labour leader


Ed Miliband: "Frankly, these look like Victorian conditions at work"

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Ed Miliband has detailed plans to tackle the "epidemic" of zero-hours contracts if Labour wins the next election.

The Labour leader says workers with irregular shifts and pay should be given more employment rights.

They should get a contract with fixed hours if they work regularly for the same employer for a year, he argues.

The Tories said the number of zero-hours contracts went up under Labour and they did nothing about it.

A government spokesman said it was analysing research on zero-hours contracts and would "respond in due course".

Zero-hours contracts allow employers to hire staff with no guarantee of work, only paying them for whatever hours they work.

'Evidence of abuse'

Speaking in Motherwell after a shadow cabinet meeting in Glasgow, Mr Miliband said: "Zero-hour contracts have spread like an epidemic across our economy.

"The government's own figures say they have increased three-fold since 2010 and some estimates suggest there are one million people on these contracts across the UK including at least 90,000 here in Scotland."

He will say the contracts can offer "short-term flexibility for employers and employees" but that most employers don't use them because they are "incompatible with building a loyal, skilled and productive workforce".

He added that Labour is determined to ban the "worst abuses of the system".

"It has left too many people not knowing how they will make ends meet from one week to the next, and unable to plan for the future," he will say.

Under Labour's plans, workers on zero-hours contracts would:

  • not be obliged to be available outside contracted hours
  • be free to work for other employers
  • have a right to compensation if shifts are cancelled at short notice
  • have "clarity" from their employer about their employment status, terms and conditions
  • have the right to request a contract with a "minimum amount of work" after six months with an employer - this could only be refused if employers could prove their business could not operate any other way
  • have an automatic right to a fixed-hours contract after 12 months with an employer

Mr Miliband said this can "only be done across the UK", adding: "If Scotland left the UK it would be harder to end the abuse of zero-hours contracts either here or in what is left of the UK."

Labour asked Norman Pickavance, former HR director at supermarket chain Morrisons, to carry out a review into zero-hours contracts, and these plans are based on his recommendations.

Shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the party was targeting "exploitative" contracts.

"One man's flexibility is another's insecurity", he said, claiming some workers were "scared out of their wits".

But James Sproule, chief economist for the Institute of Directors, said "flexibility" in the labour market was helping the economy to recover.

"Zero-hours contracts are one small part of a much broader flexible labour market", he said.

Zero-hours review

A spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said zero-hours contracts could offer "welcome flexibility" and the government would not "ban them outright", but there had been "evidence of abuse".

And Business Minister Matthew Hancock said: "We want to strike the right balance between flexibility for the businesses who create jobs and making sure there's adequate protection for employees.

"That's why we are carrying out a review into zero-hours contracts."

Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond said the Labour leader had "zero credibility when he comes to Scotland to talk about social justice".

"He backs a No campaign which is being bankrolled by rich Tory donors and which is aimed at keeping Westminster's undemocratic grip on Scotland," Mr Salmond said.

"A Yes vote will mean that we never again have to endure unpopular Westminster Tory governments that we didn't elect - and independence will mean Scotland always gets the governments we vote for, allowing us to take the action we want on issues like the Bedroom Tax, the living wage and zero-hours contracts."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 784.

    The thing with ZHC's is that you don't have to accept the work if you don't want to. It's your choice. If you want the work and flexibility take the contract.

    What is it with people who constantly seem to think that the state should dictate what people can & cannot do with their lives?

    If you want to live in that kind of society there's always Cuba or North Korea.

  • rate this

    Comment number 625.

    We need a balance. I am self employed, so zero hours by default. My biggest administrative burden is employment legislation. Rules designed to make the big bad employers be good to their staff hurt the small business owner. On the whole I am in favour of less legislation, when the economy is good, the good employers retain their staff, the bad employers don't

  • rate this

    Comment number 623.

    Plenty of businesses would have gone bust without zero hours contracts due to the cost of making staff redundant. The system needs more protections for workers but you can't have both good redundancy rules and stop all flexible contracts without facing the fact that jobs will be lost.
    Exclusive zero hour contracts should be illegal as that leaves the employee totally dependant on the employer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 540.

    I'm disabled and part of my care is provided by an agency operating a zero hours contract policy for its carers.
    Some of these carers work week to week not knowing how many hours they will have. They have rent and mortgages to pay along with other household bills not knowing how much money they may have to cover all of them. This is especially difficult for single mothers with child care to pay.

  • rate this

    Comment number 534.

    People suggesting that the jobs may move elsewhere need to take a step back and think about this. Many zero hours contracts are in the hotel and catering industry. A hotel or restaurant in Wales, NI, Scotland or England cannot move to a different country and retain the same market.

    I don't think zero hours contracts are unreasonable, but if they are exclusive then that definitely is not fair.


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