Wales politics

Call for ban on zero hours contracts in social-care rejected

Elderly people

Plaid Cymru has attacked Labour for opposing its call for a ban on zero-hours contracts in social care in an assembly vote.

Labour has vowed at a UK level to outlaw the contracts entirely.

Plaid Cymru accused Labour of voting against its own election pledge, but Labour said it has led the way in getting rid of zero-hours contracts.

The vote would not have meant a change to government policy, but would have indicated symbolic support.

Zero-hours contracts have been controversial - advocates say they offer employees flexibility, but opponents argue they constitute exploitation with employees not offered minimum hours.

The Welsh Government has previously proposed that the contracts are restricted in the social care sector, but Plaid Cymru on Wednesday called for the contracts to be "scrapped".

The call - part of a broader motion on local government - failed to pass in the assembly, receiving 12 votes for and 35 against.

Welsh ministers have also proposed to offer public sector staff reviews if they are on contracts without guaranteed hours but work regular shifts, and have pledged to limit their use within the Welsh Government.

Image caption Sian Gwenllian said backing the motion would be a sign of support for "valuable" social care workers

Sian Gwenllian, Plaid Cymru's local government spokeswoman, told an assembly debate that if Labour supported the motion it would be "a clear sign that you are on the side of some of our most valuable but least respected workers in Wales".

Her party colleague Rhun ap Iorwerth said: "The Labour Party has reached a new level of incompetence in managing to vote against their own key election pledge just four days after launching it."

Plaid Cymru has said it is the seventh time there has been a vote on the issue in the chamber - and six times prior Labour and the Conservatives have voted against.

Image caption Mark Drakeford said social care spending in Wales was higher than England

Mark Drakeford, Welsh Government Secretary for Local Government, said figures from the Institute for Fiscal Studies said social care spending by local authorities in Wales was 20% higher than it was in England.

A Welsh Labour government spokesman said: "Welsh Labour has led the way when it comes to getting rid of zero-hours contracts: we've done so in government and we've done so in organisations that are funded by government.

First minister Carwyn Jones on Tuesday said some of Plaid's attempts to ban the use of zero hours contracts in the past would have jeopardised the passage of legislation "because of the lack of clarity over devolved competence".

'Astonishing'

The law around employment is not devolved and is currently controlled by the UK government. Conservative AMs joined Labour in opposing the motion.

A spokesman for the Welsh Conservatives said: "While not suitable for everyone, we believe that zero-hour contracts do have a part to play in a modern, flexible labour market because, for a small proportion of the workforce, that may be the kind of contract that is right for them."

However he added it was important that those contracted under such terms are not exploited. "Action has been taken to this end," he said.

'19th century'

UKIP AMs voted with Plaid Cymru on Wednesday.

A UKIP Wales spokesman said: "Our party has been raising concerns about zero hours contracts for a long time.

"Zero-hours contracts take us back to the 19th century, when workers were forced to turn up at dockyard gates to be given, or not given, a single day's work. They have no place in 21st century Britain."

The Liberal Democrats raised question marks over Plaid Cymru's record on the issue in local government, suggesting it said one thing in the assembly and did another elsewhere.

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