OPINION: Caroline Flint calls for end to zero hour contracts

MP Caroline Flint.
MP Caroline Flint.

At a meeting at Doncaster Jobcentre Plus I was told about the growing extent of firms employing people on zero-hours contracts. One example is homecare workers, people who assist elderly or disabled people, so they can live independently at home.

The excellent national report into homecare, Time to Care, by Unison, revealed that nearly six out of 10 were paid the minimum wage. Six out of 10 were not paid for the time travelling between clients’ homes. Imagine if you make your first visit in Thorne, then drive to Dunsville, then Bessacarr, Edlington etc. Some are not even reimbursed their petrol.

Channel 4 News recently suggested that zero hours contracts were used by Doncaster Council. I wrote to both DMBC and St Leger Homes and the replies insisted that neither encourages zero hours working.

Zero-hours contracts mean insecurity and stress for too many Doncaster families. Some on these contracts have to sacrifice time with their kids, to be available at the drop of a hat for their employer, even if there is no work. Others are required to work exclusively for one employer with no guarantee that they will get enough hours to pay the bills. How can a person be employed on a zero-hours contract even though, in practice, they work regular hours, for the same employer, week in week out? That’s why Ed Miliband says it’s time to change the law.

What would we do? First, ban employers from insisting zero-hours workers be available even when there is no guarantee of any work; stop zero-hours contracts that require workers to work exclusively for one business and end the misuse of zero-hours contracts where employees are in practice working regular hours over a sustained period.

Both employers and employees need flexibility. Zero-hours contracts can be useful for certain jobs or professions. But flexibility is no excuse for the exploitation of hard-working people.

I’m all for flexibility, but not the kind that means you are told on the day there is no work; yet if you turn down some hours at short notice, you never get asked to work again. And what kind of flexibility leaves you unable to pay the rent or do the weekly shop. We’ve got to put a stop to it.

The Prime Minister boasts that he’s fixed Britain’s economy, but if an economic recovery only benefits a few at the top, it’s no recovery at all. The vast majority of hard-working people, and too many employed on unstable zero-hours contracts, just see more dark clouds and no silver lining.

We need to build an economy that works for workers Doncaster was built on hard work. I want people to feel secure at work and proud to work. Ending the exploitative use of zero-hours contracts is a step towards this.