Zero Hours Contracts and Impact on Black Workers i

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2014 Local Government Service Group Conference
1 January 2014

Conference deplores the rise of the use of zero-hours contracts in local government.

Zero hour contracts are a throwback to the sorry days of casual labour waiting at the dockside hoping to be picked out for work. Working hours can become unpredictable, meaning no guaranteed wage to help people pay their bills or plan for the future. This often unsteady flow of income can also stop people from claiming certain benefits such as Working Tax Credit.

Zero hours contracts require people to be regularly on call for work, often with little notice. This disrupts life outside of work and places a particular strain on families and care for dependants. They often result in a loss of important employment rights and we have seen UNISON members being victimised simply because they have tried to assert their rights in the workplace. Zero hours contracts are being imposed on such individuals as an alternative to redundancy or capability measures, but the employee is subsequently never contacted for work – a practice known as zeroing down.

Conference notes that these contracts are being increasingly used across local government, in areas such as social care, library and leisure services. They represent a shift a more casualised workforce and have the potential to undermine decades of hard won rights at work. Conference is also very concerned that they are disproportionately affecting women workers as they are most commonly used in female dominated sectors such as social care. Furthermore one in every three zero hours employees is under the age of 25.

It is estimated that more than 300,000 social care workers in the UK are employed on zero hour contracts, and that up to 61% of (primarily women) domiciliary and homecare workers are affected.

There is also a disproportionately high impact on Black women workers, who are more likely to work in local authorities, home care and other vulnerable employment. Additionally, they are also likely to have caring responsibilities that restrict their ability to be flexible which therefore jeopardises their already unequal relationship with the employer.

Conference, the prevalence of zero hours contracts is higher amongst young Black people than any other group with 37% of those employed on such contracts aged between 16 and 24 and 41% of Black people who are employed in the Homecare Sector are believed to be affected by Zero hours contracts. People are being forced to work on zero hours contracts because they have no choice and due to the present economic climate.

Conference is concerned that zero hour contracts also have a detrimental impact on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, Black people and disabled people. Some LGBT people may feel they need to hide their sexual orientation or gender identity to be assured of work or because of the fear of discrimination. Employers may wrongly assume that LGBT people have no family or personal commitments which could prevent them from working with the minimum of notice. The nature of zero hour contracts can lead to difficulties in organising in certain sectors. After years of fighting for equality gains and acceptance, this is a step backwards that could lead to the erosion of our employment rights and equality in the workplace.

Conference believes that the use of zero hours contracts is not only detrimental to the workforce but will also hurt the quality of service provision. Good quality public services are best delivered when they go hand in hand with a workforce that is fairly treated and awarded dignity.

Conference asserts that austerity and privatisation will intensify the zero-hours culture for both in-house and outsourced public services and that the quality of our public services will suffer.

Conference welcomes the UNISON bargaining guidance on zero hours contracts, but believes that further work needs to be done to establish the scale of the problem and how members are being affected.

Conference therefore instructs the Service Group Executive to:

1) Campaign for an end to the use of all zero-hours contracts within local government and schools alongside other self-organised groups, service groups and trade unions.

2) Work with the wider union to oppose the further spread of zero hours contracts, including campaigning for legislation to restrict their use.

3) Campaign to ensure that where zero-hours contracts are still used that they do not include punitive elements such as exclusivity clauses and fines for late notification of non-attendance.

4) negotiate for work to be allocated without discriminating against individuals or groups of workers, or withheld in a discriminatory or prejudicial way.

5) Provide guidance for branches and regions on how best to negotiate with councils and schools to ensure that contracted hours are used in place of zero hours contracts or other forms of casualised work.

6) Feed into ongoing reviews by the Government and Labour Party into zero hours contracts to highlight their damaging nature.

7) Ask Labour Link to raise this issue within the Labour Party to seek commitments from all Labour councillors to oppose the use of zero hours contracts in local government, local authority schools and on outsourced contracts.

8) Work with Labour link and the General Political Fund to lobby MPs for safeguards to be introduced to improve the rights of workers on zero hours contracts.

9) Carry out a survey of local government branches and/or members working in local government to establish the extent of the use of zero hours contracts; the impact on members lives and the scale of the abuse of such contracts through zeroing out.

10) Use the information gathered from the survey to raise awareness of the issues and produce updated guidance for branches.

11) Raise awareness of the disproportionate impact on Black women workers in particular of the increased use of zero hours contracts.