Zero hours contracts in Scotland: Interim Report - Scottish Affairs Committee Contents

5  A threat to health and safety

68. We have already described how zero hours workers have no protection against dismissal which, when combined with a need to work, we believe makes them less likely to challenge their employer. Zero hours workers are also less likely to receive the same level of training and professional support as permanent employees.[117] These factors have clear implications for health and safety as we discuss in the examples below.

69. We heard how employers can 'benefit' from a compliant workforce that is too afraid of the consequences to raise any concerns including those relating to health and safety.[118] The RMT told us that for both rail and the offshore industry:

    there is a clear safety implication for both the workers on zero-hours contracts other employees. This manifests itself through bad practice, insufficient reporting mechanisms in the event of an accident or an instruction to undertake unsafe work, insufficient protection from victimisation for the zero-hours worker, a lack of familiarity with colleagues in a safety critical industry and often gang working, all of which are compounded by a two-tier workforce.[119]


70. In 2011, the Rail Safety and Standards Board reported that between 2005 and 2010 up to 600 accidents at Network Rail were not notified to the company, mainly because of a conscious decision by workers and employees. The reasons given include:

·  Staff were "fearful" of reporting accidents and incidents in case they were marked out as trouble makers and lost their jobs;

·  Staff were discouraged by the prospect of being named and shamed on internal lists;

·  Section managers were "fearful" of travelling to London for a discussion with a company director;

·  Contractors were under pressure to meet accident targets set by Network Rail;

·  Contract staff on zero-hour contracts believed they would not be re-employed.[120]
Box 13: Offshore worker

A worker who was bogus self-employed raised serious safety concerns and was stopped from working because the agency felt under pressure not to employ him. It took intervention from the RMT for worker be able to work for the agency again.

Source: Mick Cash, RMT (Q174)

71. Concerns about the use of zero hours contracts within the rail infrastructure sector led the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) to carry out targeted inspection work in 2011-12. The ORR looked in particular at staff competence, fatigue management and provision of safety equipment. According to Ian Prosser,chief inspector of railways and director of railway safety at the ORR:

    One of the specific findings of the Labour Only Supply Companies investigation carried out by ORR was that, although the widespread use of notionally 'self-employed' staff on zero hours contracts has some immediate and short term benefits with regard to staff flexibility and costs, it has a generally negative effect on the attitudes and behaviour of those involved, which is not conducive to the development of a safe railway.[121]

72. The RMT state that Network Rail Scotland staff have raised concerns about the skill levels of the workers provided by labour suppliers and the use of these workers on zero hours contracts to replace full-time Network Rail staff.[122] The Rail Accident Investigation Branch inquiry into a fatal accident in December 2012 recommended that Network Rail address the safety risk arising from using agency staff in safety critical roles.[123] The inquiry found that the agency did not have the competence to assess the performance of anyone acting in key safety roles and that there was "no legal or contractual requirement from Network Rail for agencies to develop a training and development strategy or to engage in close monitoring of the performance of the staff that they hire for work". It concluded that a contractual employer/employee relationship might have prevented the incident.

73. Network Rail are reviewing their use of zero hours workers. Following the incident in December 2012, Network Rail stated that it would introduce a system whereby staff undertaking safety-critical roles would be employed directly by the main contractor or Network Rail, and would not be on a zero-hours contract.[124]We welcome Network Rail's acknowledgement of the risks of using zero hours contracts in safety-critical roles. Zero hours contracts have been shown to be incompatible with running a safe railway and Network Rail must demonstrably reduce their dependence on them, both in its role as a direct employer and indirectly through its use of contractors.

74. We believe that the stability of work and funding offered by a five-year control period means that Network Rail does not have a business need for the flexibility that zero hours contracts provide. Its only justification in using them must therefore be to reduce costs. This is not sufficient reason to put the safety of workers in jeopardy and to deny them the opportunity to be an employee and receive the employment rights that go with that status. Network Rail should take more work in-house and make greater use of fixed-term and part-time contracts.


75. The offshore industry is a major part of the Scottish economy. Jake Molloy, Regional Organiser at the RMT, described how "we came very, very close to a major, major incident west of Shetland in the last month". The incident concerned occurred in February 2014 and had the potential to capsize a link putting 150 people at risk:

    The workforce tried to stop the job the but management pushed on and pushed ahead [...] where you have a culture of fear and concern, especially among a group of agency or zero hours people, they are more likely to go ahead and do the job under that instruction whereas permanent staff, well trained staff, well-educated staff are more likely to try to stop a job. [...] I have the testimony of the elected safety rep on the day for that incident I talked about. He tried to the best of his ability to stop the job but management just went ahead and did it anyway and the rest of the crew complied.[125]

Mr Molloy explained that people in insecure employment can be so desperate for work that they are willing to work at any cost: "we have to educate workers to challenge and to say no in those circumstances".[126]


76. Zero hours contracts are used extensively in the care sector, particularly by third and private sector employers. Across the UK 307,000 care workers (one in five) are on zero hours contracts, 20,000 of whom work in Scotland. Scotland has an aging population which, together with cuts in local authorities' budgets, is putting pressure on those tasked with delivering care to the people who need it. UNISON argue that the rise in the use of zero hours contracts in the care sector is leading to worse services for the elderly and some of the most vulnerable people in society.[127] Research undertaken by UNISON has indicated that zero hours contracts are linked to falling standards of care and disquiet amongst the workforce at their capacity to deliver care to a necessary standard.[128]
Box 14: Private sector care provider

I enjoy the job I do. I am a support worker for people with mental health problems. I am very experienced and worked as a registered learning disabilities nurse in various settings before taking time out. I feel that I don't get the opportunity to offer continuity of care to the people I am caring for, I have a lot of good ideas but can't get a proper run at it because continuity and consistency is an important part of care work. I very often get phoned at 7am to go in at 8am that day for a shift. This makes it very difficult to plan activities with service users because I am just popping in and out randomly as far as they are concerned. Many people with mental health problems need predictability and future planning with plenty of time to do very simple things that we all take for granted and I cannot commit to a day that I would like to do something such as going on an outing or preparing a meal from scratch or going for a cycle. It is quite frustrating.

Source: Anonymous (Unite the Union written evidence)

77. Care staff are expected to deal with complex needs but UNISON report that staff on zero hours contracts are seldom considered a priority for training.[129]Dave Watson told us he believed that zero hours contracts were also responsible for a high turnover of staff within the care sector which, together with more variable hours for workers and last-minute scheduling, undermined the provision of continuous care to patients.[130] He said:

    If you are an elderly person and you have people essentially providing very intimate care for you: bathing you, changing, all sorts of things, to have a different person traipsing through the door two or three times a week is absolutely appalling. What you want is the same person on that basis.[131]

Allied Healthcare, who employ 1,300 healthcare workers in Scotland and 15,000 across the UK, confirmed that part of raising standards across the care sector "has to be care providers committing to their staff."[132] Allied Healthcare are now in the process of abolishing compulsory zero hours contracts within their business.

78. As with the rail and offshore sectors described above, UNISON explained how zero hours contracts can impact on the safety and wellbeing of workers in the care industry and their clients.[133] Zero hours contracts can work against maintaining standards as staff feel unable to raise issues relating to quality of care, and even abuse, for fear of repercussions against them from the employer.[134] Dave Watson described to us the reactions of a focus group held by UNISON to questions on safety and abuse:

    In the focus groups I asked them, "What if you saw health and safety abuses or health and safety risks, would you report them?" The general answer from people was, "We wouldn't be thanked for doing that so generally we don't do it", which I was obviously pretty appalled at.

    "What if you saw elder abuse, for example, if you saw abuse by a member of the family or by another care worker or anybody else involved with the family on that basis?" The answer from the same group, I asked several of them, they all nodded and they said, "We probably wouldn't raise that either, Dave, unless it was very, very serious. The reason is if we went back to the base and reported this we wouldn't be thanked by the company or the organisation involved."[135]

79. Zero hours workers have a right to work in a safe environment and must be able to raise concerns without fear of losing their job. Despite a number of reports detailing the risks of zero hours contracts in safety-critical industries, the Government's consultation on zero hours proposes nothing to protect workers who speak out. In response to this Report, the Government must set out the steps it will take to ensure that individuals who question the conditions in which they are expected to work and the quality of service they are able to provide, are protected from the actions of unscrupulous employers.

117   UNISON (ZHC0015) Back

118   University and College Union (ZHC002) Back

119   RMT (ZHC004) Back

120   BBC News, Network Rail staff 'fear' led to false safety records, 25 January 2011  Back

121   Letter to the General Secretary of the RMT from the Director of Rail Safety at the Office of Rail Regulation, 3 May 2013 Back

122   RMT (ZHC0018) Back

123   RMT (ZHC0018);Rail Accident Investigation Board, Rail Accident Report: Fatal accident involving a track worker at Saxilby, 4 December 2012  Back

124   University and College Union (ZHC002); Q183 Back

125   Qq282-4 Back

126   Q284 Back

127   UNISON press release, UNISON responds to CIPD report, 26 November 2013 Back

128   UNISON (ZHC0015) Back

129   UNISON (ZHC0015) Back

130   Q310 Back

131   Q310 Back

132   Allied Healthcare (ZHC0016) Back

133   UNISON (ZHC0015) Back

134   UNISON (ZHC0015) Back

135   Q288 Back

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Prepared 14 April 2014