Labour pledges crackdown on "zero hours" contracts

Labour would place strict restrictions on the use of controversial zero hour contracts used by businesses and hospitals across the North East, Ed Miliband will announce today

Labour leader Ed Miliband
Labour leader Ed Miliband

Labour would place strict restrictions on the use of controversial zero hour contracts used by businesses and hospitals across the North East, Ed Miliband will announce today.

The Labour leader will set out plans to outlaw “the exploitative use of zero hour contracts” in a speech to the TUC annual conference in Bournemouth, but stop short of proposing an outright ban.

Zero hour contracts, in which employees have no guaranteed hours but are simply called in to work when needed, are used by household names including McDonalds, Boots, Amazon and Sports Direct - the retail chain owned by Mike Ashley, who also owns Newcastle United.

There are also 17,000 adult social care workers in the North East on zero hours contracts, up from 13,000 in 2011, according to Government figures.

And the contracts are used by a number of NHS trusts, with Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust employing 87 staff on zero hours contracts, including 12 clinical staff.

Trusts say the arrangements allow them to call on extra staff when needed while giving workers greater flexibility, but Labour says it is concerned that the NHS “is increasingly favouring casual contracts over offering permanent roles.”

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, which conducted a survey of employers, has estimated that a million workers are on zero hours contracts nationwide.

Mr Miliband will say he recognises that zero hours contracts are suitable for some employees because it gives them greater flexibility - but in many cases they are simply used to deny staff their legal employment rights.

He is expected to say: “We need flexibility. But we must stop flexibility being used as the excuse for exploitation.

“Exploitation which leaves workers carrying all of the burdens of unpredictable hours, irregular pay, no security for the future.

“And nowhere is that more true than when it comes to zero hours contracts.”

He will add: “You and I know that zero hours contracts have been terribly misused. This kind of exploitation has to stop.”

Newcastle North MP Catherine McKinnell said: “I’m delighted by Ed’s announcement. It’s totally unacceptable for workers to be forced into zero hours contracts, or for the system to be exploited in the way that’s happening at the moment.

“As a former employment lawyer I know how important flexibility can be, but the proliferation and abuse of these contracts has become widespread, particularly amongst some of the country’s most vulnerable and low-paid workers.

“We all want to see economic recovery, but that must be a stable and sustainable one, not one based on insecure, unpredictable jobs that people are forced to take leaving them totally unable to plan financially, or arrange important things like childcare properly.

“The Coalition are clearly unprepared to act on this issue, but a future Labour Government will.”

The commitment comes after Labour clashed with the Government over the economy. George Osborne, the Chancellor, claimed yestreday that the economy was “turning a corner” but Labour argues that ordinary working people are not sharing in the benefits.

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