17:18 Monday 5th August 2013
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
[C]HRIS MANN: More than a million workers in the UK are on so-called zero hours contracts, with no guaranteed shifts or work patterns. That’s according to new research. And it’s four times the official estimate. The Government’s reviewing the contracts, but the unions and some in the Labour Party want zero hour contracts banned altogether. Labour’s already thinking ahead to its strategy for the next election, arguing the Coalition is failing to help ordinary families cope with the cost of living. In response, the Government is likely to point to its measures to bring down the cost of childcare, saying today it wants to expand a new childcare tax credit scheme to include parents who stay at home. Our political reporter Ellie Zaniewska is keeping across the main political stories of the day.
ELLIE ZANIEWSKA: Many people may not be aware that there are the zero hour contracts. It’s not a term that the employers tend to use. But basically what it means is that the worker agrees to be available but only as and when they’re needed by their employer, which is quite often at short notice. So there’s no guarantee of work. There’s usually no sick pay, although employers should still make sure they get holiday pay. And it’s an arrangement that’s used quite a bit in hotels, restaurants, shops and particularly in health and social care. And the idea really is to allow employers, and in theory the employees as well, to be highly flexible. So this is not a new thing. But part of the concern is about the number of people on this type of contract, which seems to have increased significantly in recent years. And research by the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development said there are now more than a million workers in the Uk on these contracts, which is about four times the official estimates. So part of the concern is over the increasing number of people being put on the contracts, and part of the concern is about the fact that, from the point of view of many of the people who have these types of arrangements, the flexibility can seem pretty one-sided. This is care worker (REDACTED). (TAPE)
CARE WORKER: I could not turn round to my employer and say I’m not available for work this week, because if I did that, I would find myself in a position where the following week I would have no work at all. (LIVE)
ELLIE ZANIEWSKA: So in some cases you have workers not allowed to take on other jobs without getting their bosses’ agreement. And the trade unions, and some in the Labour Party, say zero hours contracts are exploiting workers, they’re denying them normal employment rights, and really should be banned.
CHRIS MANN: When is a contract not a contract? When it’s a zero hours contract. So are we likely to see an end to these contracts then?
ELLIE ZANIEWSKA: I think that’s very unlikely. The Business Secretary Vince Cable has accepted that there are .. there can be problems with these types of contracts, and has started a review into the issue. But he’s made it clear that he is not planning to scrap the arrangement altogether. (TAPE)
VINCE CABLE: If there is exploitation and abuse, of course we’ve got to deal with it. But we’ve got to allow for the fact that for a lot of people, flexibility suits them, and not just the employer. (LIVE)
ELLIE ZANIEWSKA: And it’s interesting when you look at that research I mentioned, they found that 14% of people on zero hour contracts said they couldn’t earn a basic standard of living. And just 16% said that their employer often failed to provide them with enough hours each week. And some people are saying that could be taken as evidence that these contracts do suit most of the people on them pretty well. We’re still hearing though from the Labour Party, who say the Government just isn’t doing enough on this. They’re not calling for a ban, but they do want a more detailed consultation on this than the one that the Government is promising. So it’s quite a subtle disagreement, but Labour are really saying that zero hour contracts should be the exception rather than the rule. But what the unions are saying is that these are being used more and more to replace proper employment contracts, gradually eroding the security and employment rights of large groups of low paid workers.