The region’s leading Conservative today faces the united anger of the Labour party after suggesting zero hours contracts were acceptable to many.
Hexham MP Guy Opperman went up against several Labour MPs to say the controversial contracts, which are criticised for offering no job security, were in fact acceptable to many, including barristers such as himself.
The former lawyer said he was on zero hours contracts for several years while fighting legal cases.
His comments angered Labour MPs who are fighting to ban the contracts in many situations.
Speaking in the House of Commons, the MP said: “As a former barrister, I was unquestionably on a zero-hours contract in that I was an employee whose employer was not obliged to give me work, and I had to accept that. It is certainly the case that in rural Northumberland there is an acceptance that these types of contracts help to plug a gap. I am not going to attack local authorities which have utilised them in the past and continue to do so.”
He added: “We need to widen the terms of the debate on zero-hours contracts to consider the minimum wage and the living wage.”
Newcastle North MP Catherine McKinnell said the MP was “out of touch.” The shadow treasury minister said: “The idea that the life of many of those on zero hours contracts can be equated to the life of a barrister is just incredible. There are potentially millions of vulnerable workers across the country on exploitative, low-paid contracts which offer no security, predictability or the chance to plan financially or arrange things like childcare.”
Mr Opperman added: “I will take no lectures from Labour on this issue. My point was that whilst zero hours contracts can work, for some professions, many are used to exploit workers, especially the low paid, and those must be tackled. I personally very proud of my record in fighting for the lowest paid and being a leading champion of the living wage here in the region. I am disappointed Labour are more interested in scoring political points.”