Parliament’s Scottish Affairs Committee has published an interim report on zero-hours contracts which recommends changes, but states that ‘in the majority of cases’ zero-hours contracts should not be used at all. The release of the interim report is timed to contribute to the Government’s consultation on zero-hours contracts. The Government is currently analysing feedback to the consultation and will respond ‘in due course’.
The Committee states that the Government’s consultation on zero-hours contracts is too narrowly focused on remedying problems with exclusivity and transparency which, the Committee says, will do little to help workers who are exploited by unscrupulous employers. The Committee describes the Government’s suggestion that low-paid workers can challenge their employer in court as ‘fanciful’ given that litigation is expensive and that a zero-hours worker who embarks on such a challenge may be penalised by his or her employer.
Evidence presented to the Committee showed:
• 20 per cent of workers on zero-hours contracts are paid less than their permanent equivalents doing the same job
• 5 per cent are illegally paid less than the national minimum wage
• thousands of social care workers are illegally denied payment for time spent travelling between appointments
• 40 per cent receive no notice of employment
• 6 per cent turn up for work – having paid for childcare, travel etc – to find none available
• thousands of others have employers who evade the provision of the limited employment rights to which zero hours workers are entitled, and
• some Jobcentre Plus staff pressurise job seekers into accepting work with no guaranteed hours and threaten to sanction either the job seeker – if they turned the position down ¬– or the worker – if having accepted it they found insufficient hours were made available and wished to exit the contract and re-sign on.
Chair of the Committee, Ian Davidson MP, states that the ‘overwhelming majority of zero-hours contracts are abusive and exploitative and should be abolished’. The interim report states, among other things, that:
• zero-hours contracts should only be used where the employer can objectively justify it
• the Government must do more to protect workers who wish to challenge unfair, unsafe or unlawful conditions of employment
• workers should be told from the outset of their employment what type of contract they are on and a written contract setting out the terms and conditions must follow within two months
• the employer should be required to give a minimum period of notice when requesting work under a zero-hour contract and workers should not be punished for turning down offers of work made within that period
• where workers arrive for work but find none available the employer should compensate them for the inconvenience
• 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
• an employer-led Code of Practice is unlikely to help workers who are exploited – in fact it may serve to embed a form of employment that in most circumstances is hard to justify, and
• if a Code is produced it should only be as a stepping stone to, or following, legislative change aimed at reducing the use of zero-hours contracts.
The Committee will now pursue the issues raised with a number of employers, both individually and collectively.