Vince Cable may amend controversial zero-hours contracts

Business Secretary rules out banning the contracts altogether

Whitehall Editor

Ministers could legislate to allow people on zero-hours contracts to work for more than one employer, the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, suggested today.

While Mr Cable ruled out banning the controversial contracts altogether, he said the Government was looking to prevent employers from requiring people to work for them exclusively – unless they were prepared to guarantee their hours.

The proposal is being examined by the Business Department and Mr Cable will decide in September whether to hold a formal consultation on specific proposals.

A report by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development released yesterday claimed one million workers are on zero-hours contracts – far more than the 250,000 official estimate from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The ONS admits there may be problems with its survey, and intends to produce a new one based on different questioning techniques next spring and summer.

Mr Cable said on Sky News that for many, zero-hours contracts were “not a problem”, but it was unfair for companies to demand an “exclusive relationship” unless they could provide “stable employment”. “Where it is a problem is… where there is an exclusive relationship with a particular employer who actually cannot provide stable employment, or indeed any employment that stops the worker going to another company,” he said.

“If it’s happening then there clearly is an abuse taking place. I’m gathering evidence at the moment to establish exactly what’s going on as far as we can and next month we’ll be announcing what action can be taken.”

Labour said it would hold a summit on zero-hours contracts this week to look at the scale of abuse.

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