Hundreds of thousands of workers across the British economy are being offered absolutely no protection, and no guaranteed hours, but concern is absent in the new Care Act
Hundreds of thousands of workers across the British economy are being offered absolutely no protection, and no guaranteed hours, but, says Matthew Egan, concern is absent in the new Care Act
The widespread and increasing use of zero hours contracts has clearly touched a nerve with the British public. They have provoked a gut reaction from many that they are unfair and exploitative.
The Government has scrambled to react to the furore and is currently trumpeting its move to ban the use of exclusivity clauses within zero hours contracts, on which it has just launched a consultation.
However, there are still hundreds of thousands of workers across the British economy who are being offered absolutely no protection where they are used. Their widespread use in social care and the reaction of the Government to this offers a prime example.
Would you want your mum or dad to be cared for by a procession of strangers? By a care worker who is stressed and anxious because they not know if they are going to get enough hours of work that week to pay the bills? By a care worker who is getting paid less than the National Minimum Wage because they are not paid for their travel time? Or by a care worker who is afraid to speak out about any poor practice they witness because to rock the boat means they won’t get any work in the future? These are the effects of zero hours contracts in social care.
No country can expect to have a humane and civilised care system when their care workers are employed in such a way. And yet the Government has done absolutely nothing to limit their damaging use in this area.
Infuriatingly they are actually aware of how unsuitable the use of zero hours contracts are in social care. In a response to concerns raised by a homecare worker employed in such a way the Department of Health replied:
“The Department’s position is that the idea of a zero-hours contract is, in most circumstances, incompatible with a model of high quality care, in which the individual really gets to know their care worker.
It is important that workers are treated fairly, and ministers acknowledge that zero-hours contracts are, in many cases, not the best way to provide care to a vulnerable individual. Therefore, the Government will continue to press local authorities to ensure that the providers they commission services from have a high quality workforce, with fair terms and conditions, and it will continue to look closely at the use of zero-hour contracts in the health and social care sectors.”
Fine, sensible words you might think. However, in the new statutory guidance for the new Care Act in England where the Government could actually turn these sentiments into reality, there is not even one mention of zero hours contracts in 431 pages of detailed guidance and advice. Without any reference in the guidance it will be left to a small number of bold authorities like Southwark to signUNISON’s Ethical Care Charterandend the use of zero hours contracts.
This episode captures just how hopelessly out of step the Government is regarding zero hours contracts: plenty of rhetoric and well meaning words but then they contrive to totally miss the mark.
The sad result is that hundreds of thousands of workers remain condemned to a life of insecurity and exploitation and many elderly and disabled people will, in the words of the Government, be denied “high quality care”.
Matthew Egan is an assistant national officer for UnisonLike this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.