Zero hour contracts

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2014 National Women's Conference
18 October 2013

This Conference is concerned at the growing number of zero hour contracts that are being forced onto a desperate workforce. Conference believes that a disproportionate number of women in public services are increasingly being subjected to these types of contracts.

The Coalition Government and private sector claim that zero hour contracts offer both the employer and employee ‘flexibility’, and that they might suit those who want ‘occasional earnings’. It is hard to imagine that in the midst of the Coalition Government ‘austerity’ measures of pay freezes, cuts to funding, rising cost of living that many people want ‘occasional earnings’ What zero hour contracts in truth offer workers is insecure low paid employment.

Traditionally, these types of contracts were used in agriculture, retail and hospitality, bars and restaurants for seasonal, casual labour. Zero hour contracts are however, being increasingly used by contractors providing outsourced services for public bodies. A Government survey of businesses published in January 2013, found the second highest proportion of workers on zero hour contracts work in the health sector and the third highest was education (The 2011 Workplace Relations Employment Study, Jan 2013). A recent Commons Library report (14th October 2013) suggests that other sources indicate the number of workers on zero hour contracts is much higher than government figures suggest. The Financial Times in April 2013 reported that there are almost 100,000 zero hour contracts in use across NHS hospitals, whilst the Guardian on 8th September suggested that as many as 5.5 million workers could be employed on zero hour contracts. Skills for Care estimate that 307,000 adult social workers in England were employed on zero hour contracts in May 2013. Zero hour contracts were found to be significantly more common for domiciliary/homecare workers with 61% of workers on zero hour contracts in September 2011.

The evidence suggests that more women than men are employed on these types of contracts. Conference welcomes the UNISON ‘branch guide on equalities in procurement’ and asks the National Women’s Committee to work with the relevant committee’s and groups to,

a) raise awareness of the increasingly disproportionate number of women on zero hour contracts amongst branches and,

b)Conduct appropriate research on the impact on women of these type of contracts

c)To use the findings of any research to campaign against any adverse impact on women which may ultimately include an overhaul of the legislation

South East Region