With the election looming, and following Ed Miliband’s recent announcement that a Labour government would see zero-hour contract workers offered a standard contract after 12 weeks, the subject of these controversial contracts has been fuel for the political fire. A recent article on Personnel Today looked in more detail at where the key parties stand on the issue.
The topic itself presents a challenge for politicians, as whichever side of the fence they choose they’ll be upsetting either workers or employers. While companies want to save costs and build more flexible workforces, the staff on these contracts have no financial stability and some are exploited by abusers of the system.
Nearly every major political party has promised to take some kind of action in regards to zero hours contracts, so it’s likely that there will be some change whoever comes into power.
Until now, Labour had suggested that zero hours workers should be offered a regular contract after 12 months of employment; but recently upped the stakes with its pledge of 12 weeks. They’re also promising greater protection for workers, from compensation when shifts are cancelled last-minute, to the refusal of extra hours.
The Liberal Democrats, meanwhile, are focusing on exclusivity clauses – something they’ve already seen some success with, with a new clause due to be added to the Small Business Employment and Enterprise Bill, meaning staff no longer have to sign clauses that restrict them from working elsewhere.
UKIP has promised to enforce the offering of fixed-hour contracts to employees who have worked on zero-hours within large organisations for 12 months. There would also be a clear code of conduct for these contracts, with legal action being taken if it’s not adhered to.
Meanwhile, the Green Party is calling for a blanket ban on zero hour contracts, with leader Natalie Bennett stating that they put workers in “an impossible situation.”
The only party to so-far deny the damaging effects of zero-hour contracts are the Conservatives, who argue that many people are actually happy with them. Speaking to Sky News recently, the Conservative work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan-Smith said that Labour had been using the issue for political scaremongering, and suggested that the contracts be re-named “flexible-hours contracts.”
Commenting on the proposals, John Longworth, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), stated that “heavy-handed regulation” of employment contracts was not the solution.
“There are surely better ways to help improve the prospects for the lower paid, such as promoting training in the workplace, which would help more people move up within businesses and earn more,” he explained.