Ian Mearns: Today I will fight to end abusive zero hours contracts

Gateshead Labour MP Ian Mearns talks about his Bill to end abusive zero hours contracts, which is being debated on Friday by MPs

Simon Hobson Ian Mearns MP for Gateshead
Ian Mearns MP for Gateshead

I was genuinely astounded earlier this week to hear the former Education Secretary and current Tory Chief Whip, Michael Gove, criticise North East Labour MPs, telling us that we aren’t doing a good enough job.

The brass neck of a senior Tory lecturing North East Labour MPs whilst his Government presides over the longest fall in living standards since Queen Victoria sat on the throne is remarkable.

Today I will be doing something for my constituents that a Conservative MP would never dream of – I’ll be standing up and fighting to protect the pay and rights of working people by presenting my Private Members’ Bill on Zero Hours Contracts.

Zero hours contracts have been grabbing the headlines recently for all the wrong reasons. They are employment practices from another era that are undermining our rights at work. Those on zero hours contracts agree to make themselves available for work but receive no offer of work in return, they don’t receive sick leave or holiday pay, and they leave people unable to plan for the future, not knowing from one day to the next whether they’ll be working and earning.

Zero hours contracts are supposed to be used for short-term or seasonal work, but with 1.4m people being employed on them- including 39,000 in the North East - it is clear that they are being used by unscrupulous employers to circumvent our hard-won workers’ rights.

I think it is unjustifiable that companies like Sport Direct, who employ a shocking 85% of their staff on these contracts, are able to get away with exploitative Victorian-era employment practices in the 21st century.

In the past few years what we have witnessed is not so much an economic recovery, but an economic transformation. Jobs lost following the global economic crash and the axing of public services have been largely replaced by low skill, low wage and insecure work - and it’s leaving millions on the breadline.

People won’t see an end to the cost of living crisis until we tackle the causes of underemployment and job insecurity, and this means ending exploitative employment practices.

My Bill would mean that if you work regular hours you will be entitled to a fixed and regular hour contract, including all of the rights and protections that regular workers are entitled to. It would stamp out the abuses of zero hours employment and give people the regular and secure employment they deserve.

Labour have already pledged to put an end to the exploitation of zero hours contracts, but the low paid, underemployed and job insecure should not have to wait until next May for a Government to do something to help them.

With a General Election just six months away, the Government are facing an uphill struggle to demonstrate that they even understand the concerns of ordinary people.

Today is the perfect chance to show they care by backing my Bill. If they don’t, it will fall to the next Labour Government to take action to tackle the exploitative use of zero hour contracts.

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