Exclusive: Labour takes on bad bosses in bid to save the Union with Scotland as Ed Miliband pledges to end ‘epidemic’ of zero-hours contracts

Ed Miliband reveals pledges for party's election manifesto

Political Editor

A promise to ban zero-hours contracts which exploit workers will be included in the Labour manifesto for next year’s general election, Ed Miliband will announce on Friday.

The Labour leader will deliver his pledge in Scotland in an attempt to turn the tide ahead of the referendum in September, amid growing anxiety among the three main political parties that supporters of independence are closing the gap on the No camp. Mr Miliband will argue that Alex Salmond, the Scottish National Party leader, could not deliver social justice in an independent Scotland because he would help businesses undercut their rivals in the rest of the UK.

His intervention is significant because centre-left voters who have previously backed Labour could hold the key to whether Scotland votes to break away.

A “poll of polls” for The Independent by John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University, shows that the number of Scots backing independence has risen from 38 to 44 per cent since February last year, while the No camp has seen its support drop from 62 to 56 per cent.

As Labour throws its full weight behind the battle to save the Union, the Shadow Cabinet will meet in Glasgow today. Later Mr Miliband, speaking in Motherwell, will announce plans to protect the estimated one million workers hit by the “epidemic” of zero-hours contracts.

Labour’s manifesto will promise these employees:

* A legal right to demand a fixed-hours contract when they have worked regular hours for six months for the same employer, who could reject the request only with a good reason.

* An automatic fixed-hours contract when they have worked regular hours for a year, unless they choose to opt out.

* An end to “exclusivity” clauses which prevent people from working for another employer.

* A ban on contracts forcing employees to be available at all hours.

* Compensation, such as two hours’ pay, when shifts are cancelled at short notice.

* Measures to stop unscrupulous bosses getting round the new law by laying people off just before they qualify for a fixed contract.

Mr Miliband will insist such measures could only be implemented across the UK. He will claim an independent Scotland would enter a “race to the bottom” with David Cameron as employers on both sides of the border compete with each other. He will point to the SNP’s support for lower corporation tax and its failure to match Labour’s plan to bring back a 50p tax rate on incomes over £150,000 a year.

“The reason the SNP has nothing to say about ending zero-hours contracts is simple: they know that if Scotland left the UK it would be harder to end them either here or in what is left of the UK,” Mr Miliband will claim.

The Labour leader will say: “If we had a border running between Scotland and the rest of the UK, governments on both sides would be under intense pressure from powerful interests to undercut the other by lowering tax rates for the richest or worsen wages for everyone else.”

Mr Miliband’s message will add: “By working together we can ensure that the Tory Government in Westminster is just for one more Christmas. But independence would be forever; by working together we can change Scotland without you having to change your passport.”

Labour’s proposals on zero-hours contracts are based on an independent review by Norman Pickavance, a former director of human resources at Morrisons, who said that paying people fairly is the best way to ensure long-term business productivity.

Mr Miliband’s claims will be hotly disputed by the SNP, which has promised to “deal with abuses” in zero-hours contracts. It argues that the Scottish Government has already used its devolved powers to ensure the economy grows and protect living standards and services, and that more could be achieved after independence.

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