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UK – Ed Miliband’s promise to tackle zero hours contracts gets mixed response

11 September 2013

In a speech to the Trade Union Congress (TUC) yesterday, opposition leader Ed Miliband vowed to tackle zero hours contracts and restore security for those working with no guaranteed hours each week.

In his speech, he stated: “Now I recognise, as [the TUC] do, that both workers and businesses need flexibility. It is how you unions and employers worked together to keep people working even during the most difficult moments of the recession. Putting jobs above pay rises. Working fewer hours in order to protect employment. Flexibility yes. Exploitation no.”

“And nowhere is that more true than when it comes to zero hours contracts Of course, there are some kinds of these contracts which are useful. For locum doctors, or supply teachers at schools, or sometimes young people working in bars. But [the TUC] and I know that zero hours contracts have been terribly misused… [Zero hours contract workers] don’t know how many hours they’re going to do from one week to the next. They don’t know how much they’re going to be paid. They have no security,” he added.

Mr Miliband promised: “The next Labour government will put things right. We’ll ban zero hour contracts, which require workers to work exclusively for one business. We’ll stop zero hours contracts, which require workers to be on-call all day without any guarantee of work. And we’ll end zero hours contracts where workers are working regular hours bit are denied a regular contract.”   

Mr Miliband’s speech has been met with mixed responses regarding his stance on zero hour contracts. Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) said: “The NUT welcomes Miliband’s statement of his intention to tackle the scandal of zero-hours contracts. There is no place for these and other exploitative employment conditions which deny basic rights to security and equality.”

Kevin Green, CEO of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), however disagreed: “The Labour Party’s aggressive stance against flexible working would lead to a system where both employers and workers lose out. The REC’s Flexible Work Commission found that there was a clear demand from a variety of people who want to work part time, self-employed or flex their hours. Further, employers should not be forced to shy away from using agency workers through fear of being viewed as exploitative.”

He added: “Ed Miliband’s proposals on zero hours contracts go too far. There is nothing inherently wrong with them and the last thing we need is more regulation, which adds cost and complexity to employment.” 

Samantha Hurley, Head of External Relations at The Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo) says: “It was encouraging to see that Mr Miliband recognised the need for flexibility in the professional workforce – I was pleased to hear his comments that both workers and businesses need flexibility and that there are occasions where these types of contracts are useful - locum doctors or supply teachers for example.”

“While we accept absolutely that vulnerable and low paid workers should not be exploited, it has to be remembered that a large number of people working on flexible contracts is not necessarily a bad thing in itself and that this type of contract can be a relevant model providing opportunities to people who may not otherwise get access to work,” she added. 

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