Government proposals to tackle the abuse of zero hours contracts will not stop exploitation of workers, trade unions have said.
In its response to the government consultation on the issue, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) said zero hours workers are “dogged by low pay, under-employment, and job and income insecurity”. It referred to research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development which found half of all zero hours workers earn less than £15,000 a year (compared to 6% of other employees) and two in five want to work more hours.
However, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said government should tackle bad practice rather than demonising zero hours contracts. Neil Carberry, CBI director of employment and skills, said: “The flexible labour market in this country has saved and created jobs, and kept our economy going during the tough times. Zero hours contracts have played a vital part in this, and it’s important we protect the flexibility that can benefit both employers and employees.”
The TUC argues that varying hours – and the unstable, irregular income they provide – make it hard for staff to organise childcare, pay monthly bills and plan ahead.
It said the government proposals will not stop employers evading basic employment rights such as maternity and paternity leave and redundancy pay, while some companies pressurise workers to remain available on the off-chance they will be offered work. It has called for the government to introduce compensation, including travel costs, where shifts for zero-hours workers are cancelled at short notice, as well as written contracts with guaranteed hours where a zero-hours worker does regular shifts. The TUC would also like to see the government simplify employment law so that all workers get the same basic employment rights.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “These contracts are commonly associated with poverty pay, poor terms and conditions, and leave staff vulnerable to exploitation from bad bosses. We welcomed the government’s belated acknowledgement last year that abuse of zero-hours contracts needs to be stopped. It’s disappointing therefore that they’ve failed to back this up with any meaningful policies to tackle exploitation.”
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