Zero-hour contracts: Is everyone getting a fair deal in workplace?

By Grimsby Telegraph | Posted: 12 Jul 2017

As Westminster rumbles with questions over public sector pay and the future of zero-hour contracts, Parliamentary Correspondent Patrick Daly asked MPs for their view on modern work practices.

Each of us will spend about half our waking hours at work before we reach retirement age – so getting a fair deal in exchange for our blood, sweat and toil should be a top priority.

But is everyone getting the treatment they deserve? There has been grumblings recently over the current pay rise cap of 1 per cent for public sector workers, with teachers, firefighters, police, nurses and many others not receiving an above-inflation pay rise for years now.

And then there is the issue of zero-hour contracts and the emerging “gig” economy – a reference to app and technology-reliant employment with companies like Uber taxis and Deliveroo – where the line between being employees and being self-employed is seriously blurred.

Staff at Grimsby Institute were informed this week that 25 jobs will be cut in a new restructure as the college battles “cuts in funding”.

The town’s MP, Melanie Onn (pictured left), called the news a “huge blow” to employees who had recently helped the Nuns’ Corner centre to achieve ‘Outstanding’ at its last Ofsted inspection.

Trade unions will now step-in to help minimalise job losses but, in some sectors, this is not even a consideration.
Employers are frequently able to dictate to workers about what hours they will carry out while offering little to no reassurance in the way of sick pay or pension.

Deliveroo, for example, say their takeaway delivery riders can work when they want. But there is no help if the rider is injured – they have no financial support as the app-bosses see all their riders as self-employed, given they help them to find work but don’t directly employ them.

The injured worker will be forced to claim unemployment or sick benefits instead while recuperating.

That is one reason why one of Theresa May’s first decisions when she became Prime Minister was to commission Mathew Taylor, a former adviser to Tony Blair, to carry out a review into working practices in the UK.

Mr Taylor yesterday announced his recommendations, which included calling on those utilising zero-hour contracts to pay higher than the minimum wage and for app-developers like Uber and Deliveroo to pay national insurance and sick pay for its workers.

He said no worker should be trapped on the minimum wage and that all jobs should offer “scope for progression”.

At a press conference at the Royal Society of Arts with the Prime Minister on Tuesday, both said zero-hour contracts had a place in creating flexibility in the current employment make-up – but Mr Taylor said they should not be a “a lazy way of dumping the risk” on those at the bottom of the work chain.

Mrs May echoed that sentiment, saying: “Banning such contracts would harm more people than it would help but it is important that employers do not use these contracts to exploit people.”

The Conservative Party leader was in a conciliatory mode, in what Downing Street had been briefing was a post-election “re-launch, designed to recall her first speech as PM in which she promised to fight for “those just about managing”. Not simply a Tory PM but a PM for the country.

She reached out to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and the other political parties, saying she wanted them to help identify what they could support out of the Taylor recommendations in order to pass legal changes through Parliament.

Grimsby’s Ms Onn was obviously listening as the former trade union organiser had a list of areas where she felt she could work with the Government to improve the lives of workers.

“There’s a lot in this report which would benefit workers in Great Grimsby,” said the shadow housing minister.

“If Theresa May brings forward legislation to guarantee agency staff are paid no less than permanent employees doing the same job, I’ll vote for it. 

“I would also support moves to extend holiday and sick pay to flexible workers, and guaranteeing paternity and maternity pay to the self-employed.”

But the love-in ended there – Ms Onn found plenty to disagree with in the report. Both her and leader Mr Corbyn are against any kind of zero-hour contract continuing.

The MP said: “It is disappointing that there is nothing in the report to ban exploitative zero-hours contracts, no mention of a real living wage, and no sign the government are planning to scrap employment tribunal fees which have prevented workers’ rights from being properly enforced.

“As someone who had their own proposals to strengthen workers’ rights blocked by Tory MPs, I am sceptical as to how many of these proposals will be adopted by the Conservatives. 

“We’ll have to wait to see how many of these recommendations the Government actually implements.”

On the other side of the spectrum, Martin Vickers, (pictured left), Conservative MP for Cleethorpes, agreed with the PM and the Taylor review’s position on zero-hour contracts.

The backbencher said he supported his constituents being paid more but that should not mean flexibility of work was removed.

“Zero-hour contracts are an issue in our area because there are a considerable amount of them, especially in the seafood processing industry,” said Mr Vickers.

“The reality is, it suits some people and offers flexibility. The key thing is that people have proper employment rights and they are not exploited in any way.”

The former North East Lincolnshire councillor said he wanted “better levels of pay” for his constituents but said increased wages shouldn’t come at the cost of jobs in the region.

Asked whether Mrs May might have to concede to scrap zero-hour contracts as part of a deal with Labour to get her new employment protections through, he said: “I would hope not.

“There are a lot of people I represent who are on zero-hour contracts and, yes, in some cases they would like a more permanent arrangement, but for others, the flexibility suits them.

“And the other situation is that employers would make their own changes,” he continued.

“There would be less people employed. Surely, the answer is that we want more jobs.”

The Tories are in a position they would never have envisaged even two short months ago. 

There is backlash to the austerity mantra and a hung parliament means they are playing cat and mouse with Labour to get anything passed.

And all the while, as austerity has raged on, more people have searched for work in the private sector where they have been met with a lack of security and having to put work before family and other commitments.

Mrs May positioned herself as a PM on the side of those struggling to make ends meet and to deal with the conundrums modern working practices had thrown up.

But after maiming herself of her majority with the snap election, she now will need others from across the political spectrum to back her in order to bring her early Downing Street vision about. 

Like for the Deliveroo rider off injured with no sick pay, these are uncertain times for the Prime Minister.


Mrs May looks like that boxer who keeps getting up only to take another blow

In the frescoed grand upper hall of the Royal Society of Arts, based just off the Strand in London, Theresa May spoke about the hardship faced by those at the coalface, writes Patrick Daly, Parliamentary Correspondent.

She spoke about those “just about managing” in a room full of business chiefs, self-dubbed entrepreneurs, policy thinkers and national journalists.

Where were the Uber drivers with no sick pay, the Deliveroo riders with no holiday pay and the carers with no guaranteed hours? 

Those earning their livings without safety nets were not invited to this review launch, designed, apparently, to improve their daily lives.

The irony of the occasion was not lost on those present – the leader of a minority government talking about the need for job security. The two journalists permitted to ask questions said as much.

This was briefed as the re-launch of Mrs May’s premiership in which she would hark back to her original desire to be Prime Minister – to help those who were working hard but for little reward.

Wearing a long jacket and trousers classically clasped well above her waist, she looked nervous and even stumbled over the names of those Downing Street had picked to ask questions.

Unlike many press conferences where journalists are invited from far and wide, there was no showpiece, no affirmative announcement made.

One fellow hack, on the phone to his superiors, described it as “the definition of a damp squib”.

And that’s because Mrs May is in a tight grip right now, bound by her party or parliamentary arithmetic in almost everything she says and does. Even when at the relative safety of the Taylor review launch, where it was hard for her to go wrong, her official spokesman was back in Parliament busy announcing a review into the NHS contaminated blood scandal which has so far taken 2,400 lives. 

Her Government faced a defeat on the issue in the Commons last night, backing Mrs May into a corner on the inquiry – one she seemed to have little interest in agreeing to before the election.

Mrs May looks like that boxer who keeps getting up only to take another blow, forced to make concession after concession. 

How long will it be until even her own side call off the fight?


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