Zero-hours contracts give workers 'choice' and 'flexibility' bosses claimBUT CAMPAIGNERS INSIST THEY EXPLOIT VULNERABLE, LOW-PAID STAFF

* UPDATE: 25 JUNE 2014 *
Business secretary Vince Cable has today moved to ban ‘exclusivity’ clauses in zero-hours contracts, which have tied desperate workers to one employer, even when that employer won’t guarantee them any work at all. It’s a start, but critics say the move doesn’t go far enough, as workers on zero-hours contracts are still given too little notice about when their shifts are to enable them to plan their time properly. What do you think? Is this change enough to help you — or do the rules need to be even tougher to keep employers from taking advantage?


Bosses and workers’ rights campaigners have clashed angrily over calls to ban controversial ‘zero-hours contracts’ – in which low-paid workers are often tied to a single firm but not guaranteed any employment from week to week. Meanwhile, new figures suggest that the number of zero-hours contracts in the UK has so far been vastly underestimated – and is now 1.4 million.

A new report by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) has slammed the contracts – which many of Graduate Fog’s users have also complained about as being unfair, insecure and exploitative. Meanwhile, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has insisted that the contracts offer workers “choice” and “flexibility” and “provide opportunities for work and help people build careers.”

The TUC’s report Casualisation and Low Pay found that young workers – including graduates – were among the most likely to be trapped in zero hours contracts, with more than two in five zero-hours workers in their twenties saying they were working part-time because they can’t find full-time employment. Those on zero-hours are also likely to be among the lowest paid in society – with the majority of those on them earning less than the living wage.

Further fresh figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) have suggested that the problem is far bigger than analysts realised, and findings by the Resolution Foundation also raised concerns that the UK’s lowest-paid workers were not feeling the benefits of the economic recovery. TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

“Insecure work with no guarantee of regular paid hours is no longer confined to the fringes of the jobs market.

“It is worrying that so many young people are trapped on zero-hours contracts, which can hold back their careers and make it harder to pay off debts like student loans. The fact that these contracts have become the norm in tourism, catering and food will be a major concern for the millions of people employed in these industries.

“With a further 1.3m workers reportedly doing no work at all, the jobs market is far more precarious than the government would have us believe. This should spur ministers into action to crackdown on the abuse of zero-hours contracts by employers.”

But Neil Carberry, CBI Director for Employment and Skills, insisted that any problems from zero-hours contracts come only from a small minority of irresponsible employers – and that banning them would be a mistake:

“Zero-hours contracts have helped protect and create jobs through the recession and beyond.

“Flexible contracts provide opportunities for work and help people build careers. To focus on numbers is to miss the point — zero-hour contracts are a small part of the labour market and provide benefits to businesses and workers. They offer a choice to those who want flexibility in the hours they work, such as students, parents and carers.

“Of course we need to address bad practice, but arbitrary attacks on the existence of flexible contracts would cost jobs and damage growth.”

Last week Ed Miliband said that zero-hour contracts had reached “epidemic” levels as employers sought to exploit laws allowing flexible working. Labour’s leader said workers with irregular shifts and pay should get a contract with fixed hours if they had worked regularly for the same employer for a year.

If you’ve ever worked on a zero-hours contract, what was your experience? And if you haven’t, would you consider it? Are zero-hours contracts inherently unfair, or are their circumstances in which they can benefit workers as well as bosses?

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