Labour promises contracts to zero hours workers after 12 weeks

Ed Miliband has vowed to outlaw exploitation in zero hours contracts. Picture: Tolga Akmen/LNP/REX

The Labour Party will pledge today that workers on zero hours contracts will be legally entitled to a regular contract after just 12 weeks, if it wins the election.

Ed Miliband promises that the first Queen’s Speech of a Labour government will include a bill to give workers a right to a more formal contract if they have worked without guaranteed hours for 12 weeks.

This is a tougher line for Labour on the controversial contracts, which do not guarantee fixed hours for workers. Previously Miliband had pledged to guarantee zero hours workers a contract after 12 months.

Speaking at an event in Yorkshire, Miliband will say: “The explosion of zero hours contracts tells us the answer to that question in Britain right now.

“There are now three times as many people on zero hours contracts as there were when this government came to power; a 20% increase in the last year alone, 1.8 million work contracts without guaranteed hours.”

By shortening the qualification period to 12 weeks, 90% of zero hours contracts will be covered, Labour claims.

It also puts those on zero hours contracts on a more equal footing with agency workers, who are granted the right to the same basic employment and working conditions as comparable employees after a 12-week period, for example rest breaks and pay for bank holidays.

Miliband’s pledge comes in response to comments made by Prime Minister David Cameron last week during a Channel 4 interview, where he claimed that he would not be able to live on a zero hours contract.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills confirmed last month that it will make exclusivity clauses, where employers do not guarantee hours but prevent workers going to another employer, unenforceable by law.

It has included a clause in the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill, which is yet to come into force, which will mean that employers cannot require an employee to sign an exclusivity contract if they earn below a certain level of weekly income.

However, respondents to the consultation on the Bill have suggested that unscrupulous employers could get around this by offering workers a token minimum number of hours.

The number of people working on zero hours contracts in 2014 was 697,000, up from 586,000 the previous year.

Former Morrisons HR director Norman Pickavance, who led an independent review for the Labour Party into use of the contracts, recommended that workers should have a right to request a regular contract after six months’ continuous employment and to be given that contract after 12 months, with some exemptions for those carrying out seasonal work.

The Institute of Directors said that Labour’s proposals would be “unnecessary and potentially damaging”. Christian May, head of communications and campaigns, said: “Labour’s proposals go too far. Frankly, this is an example of politics trumping good policy.

“When it comes to zero hours contracts, the rhetoric simply does not match the reality. They are used by a little over 2% of workers, which can hardly be described as an epidemic.

“Nobody supports the misuse of these contracts, but demonising and ultimately outlawing them will simply risk jobs and undermine a labour market that has made us the envy of Europe.”

Former Marks and Spencer chief executive Stuart Rose told Radio 4 that the Labour pledge was “a laudable ambition, but you can’t do it by legislation”.

Under Labour’s proposals, there would be an exemption for certain employees, for example nurses, to specifically request a zero hours contract so that they can work at another hospital alongside their usual job.

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