Labour can cure the zero hours plague

Labour can cure the zero hours plague

20 August 2013

Unite, Britain's biggest union, is pressing for decisive policies that would halt the alarming rise in insecure working to be centre stage at Labour's summit on zero hours working today (Tuesday 20 August).
A zero hours plague is gripping workers across the UK, the union says. It is estimated that at least one million people have no fixed income or fixed hours by which to plan their lives. But with the growth of franchising and the encouragement to workers to declare themselves ‘self-employed’ by employers, the union fears that the true figure for precarious working could be even higher.
According to recent analysis, household names including Sports Direct, McDonald's, Boots and Domino's Pizza - to name a few - employ a combined total of 150,400 zero hours workers.
But the government's economic policy of funding cuts and contracting out means that the zero hours epidemic has gripped public services too, with education and health service suffering. Unite has even found 999 call handlers on zero hours contracts. With 80 per cent of central government cuts yet to be implemented, Unite fears that ever more people will be plunged into vulnerable working as public services are forced to slash jobs and services.
The union will be proposing a range of policy actions which it believes are necessary to stop zero hours insecure working becoming the contract of choice for employers. Unite says that government must be at the heart of any action to tackle this scourge, using its power as the nation's biggest contractor to stamp out insecure working by rewarding only fair employers.
The union is also calling for:

  • An immediate revocation of the government's employment £1,300 tribunal costs which will price justice beyond the means of most working people, and will allow rogue employers to flourish;
  • Minimum standards of employment to be set for core sectors such as social care, hospitality, retail, construction, just as the German economy has, to ensure only the best employers flourish and cannot be undercut by the rogues.

Unite also says that too many bad employers believe that they can ‘get away with it’ as enforcement of existing law has been pared to the bone through cuts. The union is offering to establish roving reps to help vulnerable workers speak out against mistreatment.

Steve Turner, Unite director for executive policy and the union's delegate at the summit, said: “The zero hours plague has mutated out-of-control under the Tories' policy of cuts and contracting out. With the right policies, Labour can show working people that it is on their side and determined to do better by them. One thing we would want to hear from all political parties is not a single penny of taxpayers' money is spent supporting employers who marginalise working people.

"This is the seventh richest nation on the planet, yet it has more than a million people not knowing what or if they will earn from week to week. This means misery for them - they cannot get a mobile phone contract, a credit card or even rented accommodation let alone a mortgage. How can we claim a recovery when so many people are locked out of the economy?

"Zero hours leads to debt, anxiety and insecurity and this practice is on the rise. Labour needs to act fast to formulate its policy and put secure working at the heart of our communities to make them stronger, more secure and better off.”


For further information contact the Unite press office on 020 3371 2065

Notes to editors:

  • Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.