The misuse of zero hour contracts has left thousands of Scottish workers teetering on the poverty line and relying on food banks, according to a new report by Citizens Advice. The group has called upon the Government to use the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill to ensure that workers are protected from misuse of such contracts. You can download the report here.
Zero hour contracts were meant to offer flexibility for employee and employer alike however, according to Citizens Advice, they were being used by ‘rogue’ employers to the detriment of vulnerable employees.
As of February, there were approximately 1.4 million such employee contracts across the UK more commonly associated with women and with workers below 25 and above 65 years old. The contracts were being increasingly used by national chains and, for example, it is reckoned that some 83,800 McDonalds workers, 24,000 in JD Wetherspoon pubs and 4,000 staff in Boots staff are on zero hours contracts in Scotland.
According to Citizens Advice, the ability to vary working hours each week was detrimental to the employee and the flexibility of such arrangements ‘often lies with the employer, not with the worker’. Any flexibility was undermined by employees having no guaranteed income, the group argued. Citizens Advice put some of the blame on the massive increase in food aid referrals on the proliferation of zero hour contracts. The Trussell Trust, which operates 26 foodbanks in Scotland, provided five times as many food parcels last year as they did the year before.
According to the report, workers on zero hours contracts were also liable to ‘slip’ under the benefits system as they struggled to attain a consistent income in order to receive in-work benefits plus their eligibility for Job Seekers Allowance changed depending on the number of hours worked. Citizens Advice claimed that employees were offered no legal protection, and were often subject to an extreme reduction in hours ‘in an apparent attempt to make them resign’.
Citizens Advice Scotland recommended:
- Workers on a zero hours contract should be given a statutory ‘right to request’ a contract that guarantees hours, without fear of dismissal;
- The UK Government should use the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill to ensure that workers are protected from misuse of zero hours contracts;
- Guidance to individuals, as well as Jobcentre Plus staff, is published clarifying that individuals who leave zero hours contracts due to the lack of work available, or who
- decline offers of zero hours work for the same reason should not be sanctioned;
- Claimants under Universal Credit should not be sanctioned for not applying for a zero hours vacancy if it does not meet their needs;
- Employers should be required to inform prospective candidates that the vacancy is on a zero hour basis, for instance by publishing it in the job advertisement, or by informing them at interview.