Natalie Bennett: We have to ban zero-hours contracts

The Green Party's leader put forward her views on education, pay and the NHS in a live debate with young voters.

The Green Party’s leader put forward her views on education, pay and the NHS in a live debate with young voters

Last night Green Party leader Natalie Bennett was the first politician to appear on Leaders Live, a new debate series that gives young people the chance to put questions directly to leaders.

Broadcast live on YouTube, the series is created by Bite the Ballot, an organisation that empowers young people to make informed voting decisions.

Bennett’s appearance was significant as she has been omitted from the BBC’s scheduled debates that will mark the run up to the general election.

You can watch the full debate here.

The questions that the audience asked Bennett showed that jobs and education are at the top of their list of worries.

When asked who she proposed would cover the cost of the free higher education the Greens have promised, Bennett pointed to rich individuals and multinational companies who do not pay their taxes.

She stressed that there is a need for society to be “rebalanced” and that multinationals need to take responsibility for contributing towards society.

The issue of equality also informs the Greens’ policy on drugs.

Bennett was adamant that drugs “should be treated as a health issue, not a criminal justice issue”, and said that the amount of discretion given to police means that more people from minority backgrounds are arrested for drug misuse than people from other backgrounds.

This, she said, is despite the fact that more privileged people are no less likely to be using drugs.

Bennett also pledged to end zero-hours contracts, and stated that her party was “absolutely opposed” to unpaid internships. Alongside workers who currently receive a minimum wage, interns, she said, should be paid the Living Wage as a minimum.

The NHS was also a key issue in the debate. Bennett warned that the UK is ‘racing towards’ an American style privatised health system, and criticised the private finance initiatives (PFI) which are holding the NHS hostage with huge interest rates and service charges.

Campaign group Drop the NHS Debt estimate that by 2020-21, the annual costs of the 118 NHS PFIs will be £2.14bn. Saving 46 per cent of that would release about £1bn a year.

As part of the Greens’ plans for the NHS, Bennett promised that more detail on mental healthcare would be added to their manifesto. She criticised the way that mental health problems are regarded as less urgent than physical ones, and pledged parity of esteem for people with mental illness.

On education, Bennett said that no school run by a faith group should receive government money. She predicted that in the event of this becoming legislation, many faith schools would choose to come into the secular system rather than become private.

The school system also face criticism from the Green leader over its competitive nature. Bennett said that the system should be based on cooperation, and shold include a more practical curriculum covering things like relationships, health and nutrition, in order to give pupils an “education for life”.

Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter

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49 Responses to “Natalie Bennett: We have to ban zero-hours contracts”

  1. damon

    What should the minimum hours be then?
    What if the agency doesn’t have the work?
    Will you be allowed to call up an agency to see if they have any extra work for you to supplement your other job?
    Zero hours contracts are alright when there’s work there.
    I was getting 40 hours most of the time recently.

  2. JohnRich

    There are many workers who find the flexibility of zero hours contracts very convenient.

  3. blarg1987

    A minimum number of hours can be worked out, based on overall average of company hours.

    I agree flexible working arrangements can benefit both parties but it is the misuse of these things that needs to be rectified.

    My view is that if employers expect staff to be on call then they should pay a retainer as it can disrupt peoples days for example last thing you would want is to arrange to go out with friends just to get a call saying to get to work as they need you.

  4. Paul Markham

    One has to remember that Natalie can promise anything she chooses. As she will never get the power to deliver nor have to worry about how to pay for the measures.

    Also companies would love to do away with zero hour contacts, employ more people and give wage rises. Problem is that without demand, sales and profits rising. They can’t.

    And if the economy does climb rapidly, there will be more migrants coming to enjoy the UK’s economy.

    As for not paying taxes, not sure where she lives. Not the UK, because Ed should of replied to Myleene, “If that’s bottled water it is taxed, as is the glass, the table, chair,clothes you wear, etc.” In the UK everything but food, children’s clothing and few other items are taxed. Some are taxed very high.

    So taxing the rich with their high spending, means losing the taxes collected on purchases and the jobs in the retail sector. Without losing some of the rich people all together.

    Is she referring to companies avoiding paying corporation taxes? Good luck with that, companies can register in many EU countries and do.

    As I said, she can promise to stop the rain if she gets a majority in Parliament.

  5. uglyfatbloke

    There are jobs where it is normal to hire people by the day and where that is the only practical arrangement for both workers and employers, though I’m not sure if that is really the same as a zero-hours contract. Bennett is certainly right about drugs. Cannabis should have been legalised and taxed decades ago – and would have been if it was n’t for fear of the Daily Mail.

  6. swat

    I have a feeling that LFF is going Green, and pushing the Green Party Agenda. Am I right?
    Tackle the Gang Masters and the Agencies and Slum Landlords. To some, Zero Hour Contracts give that extra degree of flexibility. People who work in Journalism and the Media know that.

  7. hs1815

    We use zero hour contracts. We run youth groups and playschemes for young people with disabilities, we simply can’t offer a contract with hours as they vary every month! Some months you might get 4 hours work as we only have one club on but other months you might get 20 hours because we have a play scheme…I think it needs to be considered on a case by case basis.

  8. Tom Bell

    In that case, you’d give a 4-hour contract I think.

  9. Leon Wolfeson

    The flexibility is not on the worker’s side.

  10. Leon Wolfeson

    Case by case? Or month by month? Can you say at the start of the month what people’s hours are?

    Can you basically let people PLAN their lives?

  11. Leon Wolfeson

    The Greens are basically the only ones with some left-wing policies. Offset for me by

    some of the nasty energy policies and anti-science agenda, but…

  12. Leon Wolfeson

    Rot. There wasn’t, for instance, casual labour on the docksides between Atlee and Thatcher. It worked just fine.

  13. Guest

    So as usual, you blame the Other and whine about VAT.

  14. Leon Wolfeson

    And for everyone else on them?

    Currently, they CAN stop you taking other work, and if you’re not available for a shift because you’re doing something else, well, 2 incidents at most and they stop calling you in…

  15. uglyfatbloke

    It’s not rot at all, it just depends on your line of work. The majority of stage workers from humpers to lighting designers, sound engineers and production managers work by the day. You might go on tour and work 20,40,60 days on the trot, but plenty of people work in a particular region for any number of clients. There’s really no other way it can work – your local promoter mostly puts on shows one at a time and they have to be able to hire staff and contractors by the day. The contractors have top be able to do the same simply because their crew requirements are differ radically from one day to the next let alone one week or month to the next. I imagine catering contractors are in the same position.

  16. hs1815

    Yes, generally people know at the start of the year approximately what hours they will be working…e.g one youth club is the 1st Saturday, so they know they have to work that Saturday. It is a difficult subject, I don’t think we can do away with zero hour contracts completely but I understand the concern.

  17. hs1815

    But some months they get no hours, like December might be zero hours for some. It obviously isn’t the same as a lot of cases where people work daily on a zero hour contract, we are only talking 3 clubs and one play scheme a month, tops. But what I am saying is that in some cases zero hour contracts are useful so we can’t do away with them completely.

  18. Leon Wolfeson

    You get PAID by the day, which is completely different to WORKING by the day.

    And your argument that you can’t hire people for shows is sad. That you argue that you won’t need the same roles filling day to day…

  19. Fabian Vanham

    And a hell of a lot more who are desperately trying to get the hours they need that cannot. Actually been in a workplace where this was the standard practice.

  20. uglyfatbloke

    In the live concert business most people are hired by the day most of the time, largely because you don’t need the same roles filling every day.
    OK, so today’s show – The Turgid Blahs’ – is in a 400 seat hall requires two sound engineers, one Lighting Designer and a level of production that can be provided from two transit vans (one for audio one for electrics) and all the crewing requirements can be met by the 2 noise boys, the LD and two or three humpers – who will also shift the band’s backline in and out. Next week the same promoter and the same contractors will work on ‘The Smiley Ninjas’ in a 3000 seat hall. The contractors will each provide an extra person or two, the promoter will bring in six or eight humpers instead of two or three and the contractors may have to bring in riggers, a couple of follow-spot operators, a site- electrician and possibly other specialists. Most local/regional promoters seldom have more than three shows a week and each show may be on a very different scale.
    The position is not very different for each of the other links in the chain. The same humper who lugs the kit into a pub gig on Thursday for £50.00 may well work on a massive stadium concert on Friday for £150.00 and a trade show on the Saturday for £200.00. The same sort of thing applies – obviously – to the lighting and audio contractors. By and large they get hired in to do one show at a time. That’s not always the case; you might get hired to do the same show 3 or 4 nights in a row in different venues. It’s hardly ‘going on tour’ admittedly, but even then the show requirements may be radically different form one day to the next – Friday night in a concert hall for 2000 punters, Saturday night in a big theatre venue to 3000, Sunday night in a great bif pub for 400….the scale of production will be very different for several reasons – size and shape of auditorium, size and shape of stage, availability of power and of course the economics of production budgets that have to be contained within the ticket price. Promoters, production companies and show crew all have to be extremely flexible if the business of putting on gigs is to work at all.

  21. Leon Wolfeson

    Sounds to me like you need to just guarantee a minimum number of hours then. Say…8 a week.

  22. uglyfatbloke

    Now your getting close; most theatres have a minimum ‘4 hour call’ arrangement, so even if the crew are only called in for an hour or two – a thing that happens from time to time – they still get paid for 4 hours. So far so good, but concerts can’t work that way. A lighting or sound contractor may have no work at all for a week or two or three – bugger all happens in January or February for instance. The contractor may have a dozen people that they can call on as required; they cannot possibly have all those people on 8 hour retainers for even one week, let alone six or eight. Remember that the margins for these businesses are very small; if a sole prop owner is making 30,000 a year they are doing pretty well.

  23. Leon Wolfeson

    So you’re saying that employment might need to shift to the venues.

  24. uglyfatbloke

    Not at all. A great many venues do not have crew of any kind since they do not have equipment. The promoter hires the hall and provides PA, lights, crew, security and whatever else is required. venues that do have equipment will have a sound engineer (two if they have a separate monitor desk) and a lighting designer. They will generally have a pool of crew contacts for humping, follow spots and so on or – more often than not probably – there will be a local crew whose manager/lead hand/chief will provide however many people s/he is asked for.
    Alternatively, the venue or the promoter will get the audio or lighting company to provide whatever they need for show staff and a security company to provide …errrr…security. The latter are in an easier, but not dissimilar position from PA and lighting companies; they need a different number of people every day, the difference is that they will generally have a number of venues/clients that need bouncers every might or at least several nights every week and can shuffle people around to meet contracted hours. Even so, they need to have a bunch of contacts who can be called on to meet unexpected demand or cover for folk not turning up or being sick.
    The reason gigs work this way is that it is the only way it can possibly work. Fixed hours contracts for stage crew (other than the relatively modest numbers in very busy venues) is simply not feasible from the point of view of the venues, the promoters, the contractors and the crew themselves. If the first three had to have fixed hours contracts for all the people they need from time-to-time they’d soon go out of business and there would n’t be crewing jobs. The only gigs would be in very large concert halls and heavily subsidised art-centre type places.

  25. Peem Birrell

    Absolutely – but banning zero-hours contracts will just result in casualisation – no contracts at all. This has actually been happening in HE with some employers boasting that they have no zero-hours contract staff. It’s true technically, but hasn’t made any practical difference.

  26. Leon Wolfeson

    When you’re offered contracts in HE, it’s for a semester, and fixed hours within that semester.

    Not the sort of contracts being talked about.

  27. Leon Wolfeson

    Rot. There’s a big demand, people would find a way. Without screwing over workers.

  28. Leon Wolfeson

    But again, you’ll KNOW you won’t be running them in December, well in advance.

    People can then do i.e. Seasonal work, knowing you won’t need them in December.

  29. uglyfatbloke

    There’s not that big a demand for the shows that don’t get trailed on the telly or the radio. Making the sums work for One Direction or Adele is easy; making them work for Marianne Faithful or Squeeze is n’t. If there were a better way someone would have discovered it. The economics of gigs are such that if you want to work at them, you have to accept that the money is probably going to be rubbish virtually all the time.
    Two things come to mind –
    (1) You are making an assumption that workers are getting screwed. It’s certainly true that most people would make more lucrative careers as teachers, nurses, refuse workers, councillors or desk-fillers for the government than as humpers or sound engineers or lighting designers. They would make more money,they would n’t get physically damaged, they would work less hard, they would have pensions and even if they were really crap at their work their career would be protected, but you work at gigs because you love gigs; the money is n’t the motivation. Of course it can be lucrative, but even for those in the relatively well-cushioned sectors – TV, the Ballet or the Opera – it’s no way to make a fortune. A tiny proportion will make (relatively) serious money going from one tour to the next, but they will mostly end up totally knackered by the time they are 50 with very little to show for it except that they had a good time doing work that they loved and delivering great – and not so great – shows for (over the years) millions of people. If they are very lucky they will get an opportunity to pursue a different career path once they get too old, but most of them will end up in dead-end jobs ’til they get to retirement age.
    (2) You are making an assumption that you have a better understanding of how a particular industry works than everyone who actually works in that industry. That’s not altogether likely. There is nothing more nakedly capitalist in nature than the concert industry. Everybody has to knock their pan in and everybody has to be professionally competent and the majority of shows have to make ends meet if promoters, production companies and crews are to make a living. There really is n’t a socialist industrial model for gigs. That does n’t mean that the workforce are n’t (broadly speaking) socialists, but they know that there is no safety net. If a Ballet or Opera company fucks up (and really they’ve no excuse) the Arts Council will come to their rescue, but there’s no government agency that will keep a concert promoter in business.
    Some specialist niche promoters – generally in Jazz or Folk music – do get government support, but the sums are trivial and there’s usually a lot of strings attached. Suppose for a moment that there was a government department to oversee Rock and Roll. It would inevitably be the plaything of people appointed to head up the agency on the basis of who their pals and relatives are. Those people would put on the shows they fancied rather than what then punters would like. They would appoint production staff on the basis of who they liked and what bits of paper they had acquired at college. Competence – never mind talent – would n’t matter a damn. That may sound unlikely, but there are performing arts centres that work exactly that way where the managers just don’t understand (or sometimes don’t care) why their centre loses a fortune every year.

  30. Leon Wolfeson

    As someone who knows a bit about music and gigs…watch as I roll my eyes.

    (Oh, and I can and have managed stage lighting boards, thanks)

  31. uglyfatbloke

    If you have the experience you should know better – though if you had serious concert lighting experience you’d’ call it a desk, not a board.

  32. Leon Wolfeson

    It’s because I have the experience I don’t agree that workers need to keep being screwed.

    And I know first hand how adaptive the business people working in are – they’d figure out ways to still make a profit.

    (And uh-huh)

  33. uglyfatbloke


  34. Leon Wolfeson

    …I didn’t actually ask for or need your explanation.

    And yes, I’m sure you do very well off casual labour.

  35. uglyfatbloke

    In the concert business just about everybody is casual – or freelance if you prefer – including me for a very long time. I did not ‘do very well off casual labour’ – every promoter knows what crew costs and therefore what your costs (as a contractor) come to; they set their budgets accordingly. .
    Paul (below) makes a excellent point about employment – if I had had a greater volume of business I would have employed more full-timers, but every contractor – even the very largest – has to take on ‘casuals’ when they are busy. They may also have to bring in a specialist for just one show. A great many of the casuals – and virtually all of the specialists – choose to be freelancers, especially if they are particularly good at what they do since they are in demand and get paid relatively well compared to most in-house full-timers. There’s also the issue of where they want to work and what they want to work at. Most concert sound engineers and lighting designers that are any good work directly for artists a lot of the time – whether on tour or one-off gigs. As a contractor it was perfectly possible for me to hire these people, but only if they were not away with this or that artist and I would only be able to hire then for a finite purpose and period. That period might be a single show, a tour or perhaps a month during the Edinburgh festival or a fortnight over Christmas and Hogmanay.
    You did n’t ask for explanations, but you most assuredly needed them. Whatever you’re experience of stage work may be, it has n’t given you any insight into the non-subsidised world of performing art where ends have to meet.

  36. Leon Wolfeson

    Your argument as to why workers should be screwed does not move me.

  37. uglyfatbloke

    That’s because I never made such an argument. I did explain how crewing practice works in rte concert business. It does n’t generally pay well, but we all knew that when we chose to make our careers in it.
    Also, you say workers are getting screwed….how exactly?

  38. Leon Wolfeson

    See above.

    Plenty of other industries manage just fine.

  39. uglyfatbloke

    But none of them are the concert industry. No two industries are the same, but some are definitely more weird than others, If you can think of a better way for concerts to work then get in there and do it, but for the last 50 years and more its worked pretty well for the vast majority of people who’ve worked in it. They have n’t necessarily made a lot of money, but that’s not really why you do it in the first place — and if it is then you should probably have done something else. I did pretty well compared to most and I was very lucky to get a freak opportunity to change careers just when I got too old to be doing concert contract work. My colleagues in my second career honestly feel that they are hard done by, but I’ve really never met such a bunch of idle gits (but charming) in my entire life.

  40. Leon Wolfeson

    ….What? There’s no current incentive not to screw workers over.

    The last 50 years have done well for big music and the music collection societies.

  41. hs1815

    Yes, we know when they will be working but they are still going to be on a zero hour contract… What I’m saying is zero hour contracts are sometimes useful, they can’t abolish them completely, unless of course, they were going to put something else in for cases similar to this.

  42. Leon Wolfeson

    There’s ways round a 0-hour ban if they know when they’ll be working then.

    You can, for example, give them a single contract without hours specified, and then a second contract specifying hours at the start of each month.

    It’s slightly more paperwork, but as long as you can set hours at the start of the month you’d be good.

  43. Nick London

    You should know this guy is pulling your chain. He engages in these debates and immediately gets personal. He often then switches out of discus to leave insulting, bizarre and paranoid posts as a “guest”, although on your timeline they always come up as leon. I and many others have reported him to the moderator to kick him off without success so far. In the meantime the best policy is to ignore his posts.

  44. uglyfatbloke

    Thanks for taking the time Nick; not really a surprise I suppose.

  45. Nick London

    No worries. Today he accused me of being ukip, wanting to throw his body down a well (I had said “hope you are well”), wanting to send around my right wing thugs to kick his face in (I had said “I hope you get the help you need”). Etc etc. he’s barmy.

  46. Nick London

    Ps from your posts sounds like you had a fab job. Life well lived. Very jealous.

  47. uglyfatbloke

    Well, it’s been interesting! Concerts/ballet/Opera/Musicals/etc…10 years as an unmarried mother (relatively unusual for a bloke even today) followed by a Ph.D and lecturing in history/theory of war….I suppose it’s been what you might call varied.
    It’s had its ups and downs like everything else, but I would n’t swap it for anything else….I suppose I’d be a bit more cheerful if Gordon Brown had n’t utterly and completely screwed my pension, making me totally reliant on my wife having a decent job, but such is life.

  48. Michael Humphrey

    I work full time in one company and have a zero hours
    contract for work with another to alllow me to work in the evenings and at weekends so my ZHC is not exclusive.

    It is certainly a pain not to know how much, if any, extra work I am going to get and I’d like more transparency about how hours are allocated but given I work in a customer-led area I don’t see a better way.

    I accept the power is on the employer’s side: they could withhold work from ‘bolshie’ individuals so the likelihood of the ‘workers’ standing together to improve pay and conditions is low.

    Rather than totally ban ZHC look at exclusivity clauses, the impact on
    state benefits and how the worker/employer relationship can be made
    more equal including some transparent structure when allocating hours so
    prejudice, discrimination or simply favouritism is harder to do unseen.

  49. Dawnk

    My daughter used to work for a leading resturant chain who offered her a 0 hours contract . She would turn up at 12 at the start of her shift and be expected to sit around and wait if the resturant was not busy. Sometimes waiting several hours before she would be paid her £3.79 per hour (old enough to work and pay taxes but not to get a living wage). Therefore, she would be at work on location for 4 hours and only get paid for two. How is that moral or right. How can people on 0 hours contracts have any financial security or build a future, as more and more companies use 0 hours contracts. In every example I have heard of, they offer the staff the same hours every week how can this be justified. There is NO benefit to the workers as Vince Cable would like to state, just exploitation of the young, female and immigrant workers. No wonder it is so hard to get people off of benefits, who could accept a job on these grounds and not be in dire straights before long. We are not talking about bank workers who just want a bit of extra money, these are workers who need to have money to live and for their families. They may be able to have more than one job, however, this is usually because they have to because they are not being offered enough hours or money in one job. Stop partonising us and get rid of 0 hours contracts for jobs going back 10 years would have had been permanent hours with the rights that go with it. Explotation and trapping families in Poverty is what it is. You can still have bank workers but for the appropriate roles and conditions. I feel that this is exactly what is wrong with this country today, the bridge between those who have making decisions for those who have not.

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