Time to end zero hour contracts

As a long-time Labour Party activist and councillor there are so many policies and issues that I care passionately about. But in the short process to select a Labour parliamentary candidate I realised I couldn’t do all of them justice so needed to focus on some of the policies that I feel are most important or where I can make the biggest difference.

I’ve already done this for the bedroom tax where I took a motion to our last Elmet and Rothwell Labour Party constituency meeting. I called on Liam Bryne, the shadow secretary of state for work and pensions, to make a clear commitment in Labour’s general election manifesto to repeal the bedroom tax.

Another policy that I’ve focused on is:

2) The need to end zero hour contracts. I will work with Leeds City Council, the Local Enterprise Partnership, Chamber of Commerce, businesses, voluntary sector and trade unions to ensure we have real local jobs and not just zero hour contracts.

Since I included this commitment in my list of policies zero hour contracts have been in the news a lot. First with the revelation that all of retailer Sports Direct’s part-time staff are on zero-hour contracts. That’s 90% of its entire workforce. And then the revelation that there are staff at Buckingham Palace on zero hour contracts.

Zero hour contracts are just like a return to the dark age of the pre-WWII depression when workers would have to turn up every morning to stand in a queue in the hope they might be chosen for work. Although at the Tories are seemingly relaxed about food banks to feed families on the breadline, they are probably even more relaxed at this return to this depression era oppression of working people.

Too often it is young people and women that are subject to zero hour contracts. But many young people and women have financial commitments that mean they need the same income security that people in jobs with real employment contracts enjoy.

A local mum told me that her son had put a lot of preparation in to a job interview, beat all the other candidates, was delighted to start work, then came off job seekers allowance and off the unemployment figures.  But her son is on a zero hour contract and he has already had a week where he had no work (and no pay).  He is in fact worse off than he was when he was unemployed and she feels this is grossly unfair.  The only flexibility I can see is to the employer and not to the employee. Another local person I spoke to who entered into a zero hour contract wasn’t offered work for weeks on end and then called up on a Friday night to work on Saturday (the next day).

However, I do recognise that some workers get the chance to choose a more flexible type of zero hour contract as it offers them more flexibility and some contracts will be better than others and indeed some employers will be better than others. The type of contract that also gives flexibility to the worker can be good while they balance other commitments such as study or childcare. But I believe it should be a choice and zero hour contracts should only be used when there are real benefits to both employee and employer. And it should be a real choice, with it made compulsory for employers to always offer the opportunity to sign a real employment contract that provides some job and income security.

Even before I am elected as an MP I will campaign to end zero hour contracts and as a candidate I will lobby to have a commitment about zero hour contracts included in the Labour general election manifesto.

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