Why Miliband’s zero hours contract pledge is spot on

Ed Miliband won't be able to ban zero hours contracts, but he is tackling the worst way they are abused, writes James Bloodworth.

Ed Miliband won’t be able to ban zero hours contracts, but he is tackling the worst way they are abused, writes James Bloodworth

Zero hours contracts aren’t new, but they’ve percolated to the top of the political agenda since the recession as the economy has become increasingly characterised by temporary and insecure employment.

Indeed, according to the TUC around 1 million people – 4 per cent of the workforce – are now on precarious zero-hour contracts; and almost half the 1.2m jobs created since the coalition came to power are also accounted for by self-employment.

It’s against this backdrop that Ed Miliband will make a speech in Motherwell today promising to end the “exploitative” use of zero hours contracts. The speech follows an independent review by Norman Pickavance, a former director of Human Resources at Morrisons.

The new rights for workers that Miliband will set out are:

  • To demand a fixed hours contract when they have worked regular hours over six months with the same employer
  • To receive a fixed hours contract automatically when they have worked regular hours over a year – unless they decide to opt out
  • To be protected from employers forcing them to be available at all hours, insisting they cannot work for anyone else, or cancelling shifts at short notice without compensation.

Some have expressed disappointment that Miliband won’t go further and promise a ban on zero hours contracts. However it should be fairly obvious as to why that would be an ineffective policy – there would be very little to stop employers simply switching staff to ‘one or two-hour contracts’ as a sop to new regulations.

It can also be forgotten that, believe it or not, many workers benefit from the flexibility offered by zero hours contracts. To cite a personal example, when I worked at Royal Mail a zero hours contract allowed me to keep my job while I studied at university.

But as Miliband will say, “a minority of employers are misusing zero hours contracts as a crude way of cutting costs or managing staff”.

The key pledge from Miliband to tackle this relates to the use of exclusivity clauses by employers that have staff on zero hours contracts. At present this lets employers prevent workers from taking a job with another company even if they’re not being given sufficient hours. An employee can therefore be left without work for a substantial period of time yet still be unable to take up employment elsewhere without losing their job – they have to be permanently ‘on call’.

This is why Miliband’s pledge that employers will no longer be able to insist that “employees cannot work for anyone else” is so important – it puts an end to one of the worst abuses of zero-hours contracts without throwing the baby out with the bath water. It ensures that flexibility works both ways – not just for employers, but for employees too.

Most importantly of all though, it’s workable in practice, whereas a ban on the zero hours contracts, while music to many people’s ears, is not.

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9 Responses to “Why Miliband’s zero hours contract pledge is spot on”

  1. robertcp

    Yes, this pledge sounds sensible to me. This is the sort of policy that Labour needs. It is not hard left or Blairite rubbish.

  2. Kryten2k35

    To demand a fixed hours contract when they have worked regular hours over six months with the same employer

    This will easily be abused, though. An employer could just mess with your hours occasionally, or let it get to 5 months before borking them, then deny you the right to that contract. Imho, that needs to be 3 months, and there needs to be some sort of meddling protection – which is extremely hard to legislate.

    However, a simple idea is that people on zero hour contracts should be legally entitled to more money/pay for their troubles. This would discourage their use and make it in everyones best interests to be on a fixed term contract (unless the employee opts out), but leave the option there in case a company absolutely must use one (times of emergency, or seasonal periods)… Don’t suppose this would fly well with capitalists, though. Just a rough suggestion.

  3. Norfolk29

    There is a need to provide for the security of employment of workers trapped in these situations. No employer would submit to a zero value sales deal, where the buyer had the company under contract to supply and yet had no obligation to buy anything. The stuff available in the warehouse and not available to be sold to anyone else. Just think of it. Miliband is listening to the employers and trying not to appear unreasonable, while they are being unreasonable. Time there was minimum weekly wage attached to every such contract where the employer shared some of the risk.

  4. wildejamey

    Sorry, but from the info I’ve read, Miliband’s proposals are so hedged with ifs and buts and potential loopholes they are far from spot on. If something is unethical and takes us back to 19th Century practices it should be banned. Period. In any form. Never mind the 6 months and “stopping” employers sacking people before it expires. They will do it anyway or the courts will let them find a way round it. Just like they do with the 12 month qualifier for employment rights. Does he learn nothing? It won’t make me more likely to vote Labour again.

  5. wildejamey

    A simple idea is just banning it.

  6. wildejamey

    Basically he’s gutless and trying to be all things to all men. This rubbish will not entice core Labour supporters to vote for the party again after the grubby treatment of workers in the past.

  7. Norfolk29

    Do you mean compared to Cameron, Clegg, Osborne? He has to carry that Ming Vase across that polished floor and I accept that is very difficult, and I give him marks for what he is promising to do.

  8. Kryten2k35

    Yes, because banning things works and isn’t on the extreme. There are no practical and legitimate uses for zero hour contracts. How silly of me to think of a solution that works both ways and suits businesses and employees.

  9. Kryten2k35

    So vote ______ and see another Tory government. Your call.

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