By Tony Burke, Chair, Campaign For Trade Union Freedom
MPs sitting on the House of Commons’ Scottish Affairs Committee,¬†have slammed the use of zero-hours contracts and has called on the government to abolish such “contracts”.
The MPs branded some businesses using the zero hours contracts as “unscrupulous” and were taking advantage of the controversial employment agreements.
According to the House of Commons’ Scottish Affairs Committee, zero-hour contracts mean that the relationship between employers and workers is “unbalanced”.
The MPs said such companies had the advantages of flexibility, few costs and the workers lived “in fear” of dismissal, denied access to due rights of employment and, in some cases, earning less than the minimum wage.
The MPs report found that two in ten – 20% of workers on the contracts are paid less than their permanent equivalents doing the same job.
“The overwhelming majority of zero hours contracts are abusive and exploitative and should be abolished,” said Ian Davidson MP, the Labour Party committee chair.
Davidson went onto say: “In most cases their use is evidence of sloppy, lazy or incompetent management, who intimidate their workforce by keeping them insecure.¬†Zero hours contracts put workers in such a vulnerable position that they are unable even to assert their lawful right to the meagre benefits these contracts offer.
“We heard how workers, without any kind of job security, were fearful of questioning the terms of their employment, even when they knew they were being treated unfairly, and that they were reluctant to challenge unsafe working conditions. Many felt that they could not turn down work, no matter how short the notice or however inconvenient the shift offered, in case doing so jeopardised future offers of work.“
He went on: “Our detailed recommendations would improve the operation of zero hours contracts but our overriding conclusion is that, in the majority of cases, zero hours contracts need not and should not be used at all.”
The group of MPs also slammed the government’s recent consultation into the controversial employment contracts for being “too narrow”.
The committee said it focused on the issues of exclusivity and transparency, but argued that addressing these issues “will do little to help workers who are exploited by unscrupulous employers”.
The group also said that there should be a minimum notice period of work and workers should not be punished for turning down offers of work made within that period.
In addition, the MPs said travel time between appointments should be paid and pay for zero hours workers should “accurately reflect” the number of hours that are worked to fulfil contracted duties.
Davidson added: “Our detailed recommendations would improve the operation of zero hours contracts but our overriding conclusion is that, in the majority of cases, zero hours contracts need not and should not be used at all.”
The problem with finding out how many workers in the UK are on zero hours contracts is that there is no legal definition for the employment agreements.
The Office of National Statistics (ONS) revised its estimation in March of the number of people on zero hours contacts in 2010 from 183,000 to 585,000.
But other organisations have argued that the number of employees on the contracts is even greater. Unite has argued that its own survey showed that¬†Elsewhere, the trade union Unite has claimed that as many as five and a half million workers in the country were working on zero hours contracts.
But according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), there are around 750,000 workers who have signed up to the employment agreements.