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

9  Conclusion

123. It is clear that zero hours contracts and other forms of casual labour can benefit both employers and workers but our inquiry has shown that, too often, the relationship is unbalanced, leaving the employer with all of the flexibility and few costs and the worker in fear of dismissal and denied access to due rights of employment. During our inquiry into the use of zero hours contracts in Scotland, we heard how workers, without the security of a permanent job, were fearful of questioning the terms of the conditions of their employment even if they knew them to be unfair, were reluctant to challenge unsafe working conditions and felt that they could not turn down work no matter how short the notice or how inconvenient the shift offered, in case doing so jeopardised future offers of work.

124. Zero hours workers are entitled to limited employment rights but, worryingly, a significant proportion of employers are either ignorant of those rights or are wilfully blocking access to them. Five per cent of zero hours workers are paid less than the national minimum wage and thousands of social care workers are illegally denied payment for time spent travelling between appointments. This is clearly unacceptable, but it is not just with employers that there is a problem. We heard examples of Jobcentre Plus staff pressurising job seekers into accepting work with no guaranteed hours and threatening 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.

125. The UK Government has recognised that poor practice exists and needs to be addressed. It announced its intention to address concerns surrounding zero hours contracts in August 2013 but the consultation that followed was too narrow. It focused on measures to combat the problems of exclusivity and a lack of transparency which are concerns but addressing them on their own will do little to tackle the problems of exploitation we have highlighted in this Report. For example, such measures will be of limited help to the 20% of workers paid less than their permanent equivalents doing the same job, the 40% who receive no notice of employment or the 6% who turn up for work to find none available, or the thousands of others whose employers evade the provision of basic employment rights.[198]

126. Exclusivity should be banned where there is no guarantee of work and more transparency can only be a good thing, but we doubt a Code of Practice that is employer-led will help workers who are exploited. We are concerned that a Code of Practice may serve to embed a form of employment that in most circumstances is difficult to justify. If a Code is to be produced it should only be as a stepping stone to, or following, legislative change aimed at reducing the use of zero hours contracts and ensuring workers receive the income, rights and protections to which they are entitled.

127. The Government argues that workers are able to challenge unscrupulous employers through the courts, but the idea that a low-paid worker can challenge their employer through an expensive legal process is fanciful. The lack of a legal definition of a zero hours contract also hinders any legal challenge. A zero hours worker who embarks on such a challenge may also be penalised by the employer for doing so.

128. The problems with zero hours contracts, as well as other forms of casual labour, are clear, yet it does not have to be this way.Many organisations are able to manage without using zero hours contracts: local authorities have moved away from using them directly and most major supermarkets are able to respond to fluctuations in their sectors without them. The use of zero hours contracts is out of all proportion to what is required and is creating a two-tier workforce. Employers should make much greater use of permanent, part-time, fixed-term or variable hours contracts which guarantee minimum hours and provide workers with a degree of certainty. Zero hours contracts must only be used where the employer can objectively justify their use.

129. The increase in the use of casual labour across the UK, and in Scotland in particular, is alarming.The Government should use all the levers at its disposal, including legislative change, to effect a shift in culture.

198   CIPD, Policy Response: Zero hours employment contracts, March 2014 Back

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