UK Politics

Zero-hours crackdown plan unveiled by Labour leader

Media captionEd Miliband: "Frankly, these look like Victorian conditions at work"

Ed Miliband has detailed plans to tackle the "epidemic" of zero-hours contracts if Labour wins the next election.

The Labour leader says workers with irregular shifts and pay should be given more employment rights.

They should get a contract with fixed hours if they work regularly for the same employer for a year, he argues.

The Tories said the number of zero-hours contracts went up under Labour and they did nothing about it.

A government spokesman said it was analysing research on zero-hours contracts and would "respond in due course".

Zero-hours contracts allow employers to hire staff with no guarantee of work, only paying them for whatever hours they work.

'Evidence of abuse'

Speaking in Motherwell after a shadow cabinet meeting in Glasgow, Mr Miliband said: "Zero-hour contracts have spread like an epidemic across our economy.

"The government's own figures say they have increased three-fold since 2010 and some estimates suggest there are one million people on these contracts across the UK including at least 90,000 here in Scotland."

He will say the contracts can offer "short-term flexibility for employers and employees" but that most employers don't use them because they are "incompatible with building a loyal, skilled and productive workforce".

He added that Labour is determined to ban the "worst abuses of the system".

"It has left too many people not knowing how they will make ends meet from one week to the next, and unable to plan for the future," he will say.

Under Labour's plans, workers on zero-hours contracts would:

  • not be obliged to be available outside contracted hours
  • be free to work for other employers
  • have a right to compensation if shifts are cancelled at short notice
  • have "clarity" from their employer about their employment status, terms and conditions
  • have the right to request a contract with a "minimum amount of work" after six months with an employer - this could only be refused if employers could prove their business could not operate any other way
  • have an automatic right to a fixed-hours contract after 12 months with an employer

Mr Miliband said this can "only be done across the UK", adding: "If Scotland left the UK it would be harder to end the abuse of zero-hours contracts either here or in what is left of the UK."

Labour asked Norman Pickavance, former HR director at supermarket chain Morrisons, to carry out a review into zero-hours contracts, and these plans are based on his recommendations.

Shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the party was targeting "exploitative" contracts.

Media captionShadow business secretary Chuka Umunna: "Scared out of their wits"

"One man's flexibility is another's insecurity", he said, claiming some workers were "scared out of their wits".

But James Sproule, chief economist for the Institute of Directors, said "flexibility" in the labour market was helping the economy to recover.

"Zero-hours contracts are one small part of a much broader flexible labour market", he said.

Zero-hours review

A spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said zero-hours contracts could offer "welcome flexibility" and the government would not "ban them outright", but there had been "evidence of abuse".

And Business Minister Matthew Hancock said: "We want to strike the right balance between flexibility for the businesses who create jobs and making sure there's adequate protection for employees.

"That's why we are carrying out a review into zero-hours contracts."

Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond said the Labour leader had "zero credibility when he comes to Scotland to talk about social justice".

"He backs a No campaign which is being bankrolled by rich Tory donors and which is aimed at keeping Westminster's undemocratic grip on Scotland," Mr Salmond said.

"A Yes vote will mean that we never again have to endure unpopular Westminster Tory governments that we didn't elect - and independence will mean Scotland always gets the governments we vote for, allowing us to take the action we want on issues like the Bedroom Tax, the living wage and zero-hours contracts."

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