‘Zero-hours’ contracts for workers to be reviewed by Coalition
The Business Secretary, Vince Cable, is worried that some are being abused by companies
Andrew Grice has been Political Editor of The Independent since 1998. He was previously Political Editor of The Sunday Times, where he worked for 10 years, and he has been a Westminster-based journalist since 1982. His column, Inside Politics, appears in The Independent each Saturday.
Wednesday 12 June 2013
The Government is to review the use of controversial “zero-hours” contracts under which employees are put on standby and not guaranteed a minimum amount of work.
Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, is worried that some companies are abusing the contracts and has asked his officials to review the growth of the contracts in both the private and public sectors. Although he is unlikely to ban them, they could be restricted or workers on them given more protection.
Mr Cable, pictured, told The Independent: “In the past decade, there has been a steady rise in the number of zero-hour contracts. For some these can be the right sort of employment contract, giving workers a choice of working patterns. However, for a contract that is now more widely used, we know relatively little about its effect on employers and employees. There has been anecdotal evidence of abuse by certain employers – including in the public sector – of some vulnerable workers at the margins of the labour market.”
The Business Secretary added: “While it’s important our workforce remains flexible, it is equally important that it is treated fairly. This is why I have asked my officials to undertake some work to better understand how this type of contract is working in practice today.”
The Trades Union Congress has called for the contracts to be outlawed, a move that Labour is considering during its wholesale policy rethink. Mr Cable’s officials will consult business groups and unions during the review.
The Conservatives would not support a ban and Mr Cable will not propose one because some workers prefer to be on call and to work only occasionally. He is prepared to look at safeguards, for example how people employed in this way are treated by the benefits system. One option could be higher tax credits to compensate for periods when they are not called in to work.
According to the Office for National Statistics, the number of “zero-hours workers” has risen from 131,000 to 200,000 since 2007 but the figures are almost certainly an underestimate. Initially, they were introduced in shops, restaurants and hotels but have spread to public services in recent years as public-spending cuts bite. The number in the NHS has risen by a quarter in two years to almost 100,000.
Lord Oakeshott, the Liberal Democrat peer, who has protested over House of Lords staff being put on such contracts, said: “The rapid growth shown in the official figures is probably only the tip of the iceberg. What is really shocking is that people who get not a penny a month don’t show up in the unemployment statistics. A zero-hours contract with zero pay for a month is not really a contract and people on them should count as unemployed.”
The growing political debate over the contracts has echoes of the split between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats over proposals to dilute workplace rights by Adrian Beecroft, a venture capitalist and Tory donor who reviewed them for Downing Street.
Mr Beecroft proposed a system called “no-fault dismissal”, which allowed bosses to pay off workers without allowing them to claim unfair dismissal. It won the backing of David Cameron and George Osborne but was blocked by Mr Cable.
Liberal Dem-ocrats accused the Tories of trying to bring back “Victorian values”.
- 1 Christians: The world's most persecuted people
- 2 Israel-Gaza conflict: The secret report that helps Israelis to hide facts
- 3 Thatcher ‘was warned of Tory child sex party claims’
- 4 Lauren Goodger sex tape: Reality star calls for tougher laws on revenge porn after intimate video leaks online
- 5 The Simpsons Family Guy trailer: First look at crossover episode after Comic-Con debut
A new Russian revolution: The cracks are starting to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Thatcher ‘was warned of Tory child sex party claims’
Israel-Gaza conflict: President Obama presses Netanyahu to call ‘immediate and unconditional’ Gaza ceasefire
Lauren Goodger sex tape: Reality star calls for tougher laws on revenge porn after intimate video leaks online
Iraq crisis: End 'very near' for Christianity after Isis takeover, says Bishop
Israel-Gaza conflict: The secret report that helps Israelis to hide facts
A day in the life of Vladimir Putin: The dictator in his labyrinth
Opponents of Israel's military operation in Gaza are the real enemies of Middle Eastern peace
Were 'Poor Doors' added to mixed developments so wealthy residents don't have to go in alongside social housing tenants?
Arizona execution lasts two hours as killer Joseph Wood left 'snorting and gasping' for air
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Massive rise in sale of British arms to Russia
£40000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: This is an e...
£45000 - £55000 per annum + Car, Healthcare, Pensions: Progressive Recruitment...
£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Leading Sof...
£90 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education are looking fo...