THE BLOG

Zero Tolerance on Zero Hours Exploitation

18/11/2014 17:33 GMT | Updated 18/01/2015 10:59 GMT

A job ought to be the foundation on which people can build their lives but an increasing number of workers find themselves plagued by job insecurity, not knowing from one day to the next whether they will be working or earning.

The rise in job insecurity under this Government has been stark. In 2011 six and a half million people said they felt insecure at work. By this year that number had almost doubled to twelve million. The Conservative's long term economic plan is for a low wage and low skill economy and it's leaving millions of Brits living on the edge -nowhere is this more apparent than in the alarming rise of the use of zero hours contracts.

Zero hours contracts are a one way street. They demand total flexibility and commitment from individuals, but offer little in return. Employees agree to make themselves available for work but no guarantee of work is reciprocated and workers find themselves being called into work at the drop of a hat or having their shifts cancelled with just a couple of hours' notice. For a small number of people the flexibility of zero hours contract might be advantageous, but what the vast majority of people want and need is secure and decent work.

Zero hours contracts are supposed to be used for short-term or seasonal work, but it is clear that they are being exploited by unscrupulous employers who seem to think that we still live in Victorian times to dodge their responsibilities towards their staff. Zero hours contract workers receive under half the gross weekly wage as regular worker, few receive sick leave, holiday pay or overtime and they are significantly more vulnerable to exploitation than those on regular contracts. For too many zero hours contracts mean low pay, job insecurity and zero rights in the workplace.

A decent standard of living is denied to anybody living with the fear and trepidation of not knowing when their next shift or pay cheque will come and any economic recovery will be one for the few, not the many, so long as working people continue to be employed on these Dickensian contracts. Yet under this Government zero hours contracts have gone from being a small niche in the labour market to becoming the norm across many sectors.

Job insecurity is compounding the living standards crisis blighting the lives of millions but the Government refuses to even recognise the abuse of zero hours contracts as a problem. As recently as last year the Coalition were claiming that just 200,000 were employed on these contracts. The true figure as revealed by the Office of National Statistics was in fact seven times higher than Government Ministers admitted, a staggering 1.4million.

The Government's unwillingness to tackle the abuse of zero hours contracts isn't only impacting on zero hours workers, it's making all of us worse off. David Cameron has presided over a jaw-dropping 59% increase in in-work poverty since 2010. The failure to deal with in-work poverty is making increasing numbers reliant on working tax credits and other in-work benefits to survive, with the growing number of workers having to claim in-work housing benefit alone costing the taxpayer £5billion during the course of this parliament.

It is a national scandal that over half of the families living in poverty in the UK are now working households, and if the Government wanted to tackle the problem of in-work poverty they would legislate to put an end to such exploitative employment practices. Unfortunately for the job-insecure, underpaid and underemployed it would seem that there is little political will to do so. Labour have already pledged to ban the abuse of zero hours contracts, but I don't think that workers should have to wait until next May for action to be taken which is why this Friday I will be presenting my Private Members' Bill to limit the use of zero hours contracts.

The principle behind the Bill is simple: if you work regular hours then you should have a regular fixed hour contract, along with all of the rights and protections afforded to regular workers. The Bill would put a duty on employers to offer their staff fixed and regular hours, to pay their staff for shifts cancelled at short notice and to pay overtime for those announced at the last moment, it would also outlaw exclusivity clauses that prevent the underemployed from earning in a second job.

With people already earning £1,600 less a year on average than they were in 2010, few believe that David Cameron and George Osborne have working people's interests at heart. This Friday the old Etonians will have a chance to prove us wrong by backing my Bill to ban the abuse of zero hours contracts.