THE BLOG

Zero Hours Contracts Will Keep People on Benefits

05/09/2014 17:19 BST | Updated 05/11/2014 10:59 GMT

I'm always talking about getting people off of benefits and into work, and I make no bones about the fact that I believe that the way to do this is to make working for a living more attractive than 'not working' for a living. It's all about incentives for me, and I do genuinely believe that policies put in operation by the current government to make benefits less attractive are part of the solution and a good idea.

But it doesn't follow that I believe people should be forced into bad jobs, with bad conditions and little security. We can't all have the dream job we want, and sometimes we have to serve our time; I should know - I was an apprentice for four years and then flew by the seat of my pants for several years as a start-up self-employed plumber and heating engineer.

But there needs to be a bit of balance and zero hours contracts are not a good practice, and they are not a great way of encouraging people off of benefits and into work. Certainly it's not fair to expect someone to take the step into the world of work with a job, but no guarantee of enough hours or income to put food on the table.

In early 2013, the Office for National Statistics estimated that there were more than 1.4 million zero-hours contracts in use in the UK. The Trades Union Congress is calling them the "underemployed", but in my personal opinion a job should be a promise of work for a minimum of 35-40 hours a week, and anything other than that isn't "a job" at all.

I've even heard that there are zero-hours contracts with exclusivity clauses that stop employees taking on additional work elsewhere, even if their current employer isn't offering them any work. How can you tie individuals to a workplace yet offer no guarantee of work or pay each week? Don't even get me started on the fact that these rogue employers often get away with denying their staff any sick pay or holiday pay!

Why would anyone in their right mind turn down regular, reliable benefit payments or a steady Jobseekers Allowance when the alternative is uncertainty, insecurity and being downright exploited?

According to new research from totaljobs.com, more than half (52%) of UK workers would refuse to sign up to a zero hours contract if a prospective employer offered them one - and to be honest I don't blame them one bit!

I'm glad that business secretary Vince Cable is urging unions and employers to expose the loopholes in zero-hours contracts that are so often exploited, but in my opinion this simply doesn't go far enough in terms of encouraging people to come off benefits and get back into work. Employers who use these contracts are exploiting their staff and they need to be need to be held to account.

I hate the idea of zero hour contracts and I think in almost all cases they shouldn't be used. They are not real jobs, and the sooner we treat them as such the better.