Zero Hours Contracts in the NHS

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2014 Health Care Service Group Conference
1 January 2014

UNISON research into zero hours contracts shows that more than 40% of care workers are on these contracts. Activists are reporting that more employers are using zero hours contracts more widely across the NHS. This also includes operational service staff. Zero hours contracts are imbalanced and the employer reaps all the benefits. Members are asked to provide availability and employers match the hours available to the staff. This means some weeks you are offered hours and some weeks you get none. This impacts on the individual as they are unable to budget, cannot access welfare benefits and find turning to payday loans the only solution. The clients they care for are also disadvantaged; they do not get the same carer and so continuity and standards of care suffer.

This casualisation of the workforce is a direct result of the austerity measures this government is implementing. Workers rights are being eroded and access to welfare benefits is being curtailed. Staff affected by zero hours are some of the lowest paid in the health service and they deserve some confidence in knowing what their regular weekly income will be.

Conference is concerned about the increase of zero hours contracts and the effect it is having on disabled people working in the NHS. Zero hour contracts are an example of poor employment conditions, as they create insecurity and poverty. Disabled employees on zero hours contracts are less likely to have any career progression, or contribute to a pension scheme. This means they face a miserable future, reliant upon benefits, and the so called ‘pay day lenders’, companies who lend money with extortionate interest rates to the most vulnerable, even though they know they will struggle to pay it back.

Staff are left feeling not valued, this then transmits to the clients and the care they receive suffers. Zero hour contracts deter potential whistleblowers due to the fear of work being removed from them. Many care workers (57.8%) do not get paid for the time they travel between jobs, this means that in effect they get paid less than the minimum wage. Recent research has estimated that 63.1% of health care workers in the community do not get the minimum wage.

Commissioners contracting these services are not ensuring staff are paid on Agenda for Change and they are not ensuring the contract specifications deliver the service needs.

Conference notes that NHS employers are increasingly turning to zero hours or permanent variable hours contracts to fill non-specialist posts. Such contracts are clearly a threat to national negotiations and are not in keeping with Agenda for Change terms and conditions.

The implications are clear – there is no guaranteed income; dependent care is difficult to arrange; travel to work costs may increase; training and development opportunities are not offered; terms and conditions are eroded and hard won workers rights are not applied. This is particularly true for low paid, part time women workers in vulnerable and insecure employment.

Reducing hours and introducing variable hours are also being used to force workers into accepting redundancy or seeking alternative employment, in an already difficult job market. The alternative is to remain in work with no guaranteed income, and no recourse to state benefits.

Conference believes that there is an urgent need for clear guidance for branches to assist them in negotiating with employers, in protecting members offered or forced onto zero hours contracts.

Conference calls upon the Health Service Group Executive to :

1)vigorously campaign against the misuse and abuse of zero hours contracts, so that they do not become the norm for workers employed in the NHS;

2)vigorously campaign for full employment rights for those members who are currently on zero hours contracts , so that they enjoy the same terms and conditions of those who are covered under Agenda for Change;

3)urgently issue guidance to branches on negotiating against such contracts whilst protecting our members and defending Agenda for Change terms and conditions;

4)work with the operational services occupational group on the impact that the increased zero hours culture is having on operational service staff.

5)Work with Labour Link to press the government and the Labour Party to prevent the abuse of this kind of contract and get workers back into meaningful and valued work.