Zero hours contracts: Rogue employers are creating a pool of casual, insecure employees

The Small Business Bill will ban exclusivity clauses in contracts which do not guarantee any hours

Share

Now that Britain is recovering from the recession, attention has shifted from the threat of unemployment to increasing pay and the security of those in work. Zero hours contracts have become a touchstone for those concerned about employment conditions.

Overall the employment position is remarkably positive. A crisis of comparable magnitude in the inter-war period led to unemployment of 20 per cent. Today the unemployment rate is 6.6 per cent, one of the lowest in the developed world. Moreover approximately 2 million new jobs have been created, with new private sector jobs far outstripping public sector job losses.

Around 40 per cent of all new jobs are in self-employment. But over the past two years there have been a million or so new employees, 9 out of 10 of which are in full time jobs. Job satisfaction and overall wellbeing increased between 2004 and 2011 and is comparatively very high by international standards.

For different types of work the proportion of temporary employment is amongst the lowest in the world, well below the EU average (14 per cent). And of part-timers who do not have full time jobs, less than 1 in 5 want one.

Nevertheless, a lot of attention has been given to one group of workers who do not have permanent work but operate on contracts without specified hours. The best and latest figures from the Office of National Statistics suggest 583,000 workers – 4 per cent of the labour force - believe they are in this position and most of these are perfectly satisfied with their situation. But there are differing definitions and figures. Taking all the information together we judge that less than 1 in 20 workers are on zero hours contracts.

Zero hour contracts were very common under the last Labour Government and my predecessors felt that no action was necessary. Then as now, such contracts served the interests not just of employers but of many employees - students, older workers, single parents - who value flexibility, including the right to turn down work at inconvenient times, and the chance to top up their income when they need extra cash.

But there have been numerous complaints that some rogue employers abuse that relationship and are creating a pool of casual, insecure - mostly low paid, low skill - employees. The main concerns are twofold: exclusivity clauses which tie employees to one employer even if no work is available and lack of transparency around the contract leaving individuals unaware of their rights.

I gathered evidence and then launched a consultation last December on corrective action. There were 36,000 responses. Of these, 83 per cent supported a ban on exclusivity clauses. On this basis, the Government has decided to legislate in the Small Business Bill, introduced in Parliament today, to ban exclusivity clauses in contracts which do not guarantee any hours. We shall consult further on how best to tackle avoidance and achieve redress. But legislation can only take us so far and we will work with unions and employees to devise a code of practice on the fair use of zero hours contracts.

As Britain progresses out of deep economic crisis it is right that the workforce benefits from recovery in the form of improved wages and better conditions, alongside improvements in productivity and investment in skills. The steps we propose to take on zero hours contracts are a signal of the Government's commitment to that process.

Vince Cable is the Business Secretary

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: Why it won’t be the i wot won it – our promise to you

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
A relative of dead Bangladeshi blogger Washiqur Rahman reacts after seeing his body at Dhaka Medical College in Dhaka on March 30,  

Atheists are being hacked to death in Bangladesh, and soon there will be none left

Rory Fenton
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor