Zero Hours and Black Workers

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2018 Local Government Service Group Conference
23 February 2018

In recent news it has reported that unemployment has hit a record low. What these statistics do not report is that a large proportion of this is because of the increase in zero hours contracts.

Employers have increasingly been turning to zero hours contracts as part of the general attack on staff terms and conditions that has accompanied the privatisation and cuts to funding across the public services.

This has particularly affected workers in the homecare sector with most privatised companies employing workers on zero hour contracts often without travel time, sick pay, training or the living wage.

We are aware that some individuals choose these contracts in order to meet with family commitments as flexible contracts around their personal lives be it taking care of children or elderly relatives are not available.

However for many other vulnerable workers, many of them Black workers, it is not a choice. A large number of zero hours contracts affect the low paid and the main features of these are Black workers (often not members so without the protection of UNISON) are disproportionately being affected.

For these workers zero hours contracts have a negative impact in a number of ways:

1)There is no guaranteed level of regular earnings;

2) The need to be available for work when required by the employer hinders the ability of staff to take up other employment;

3) The variability of earnings throws into doubt an individual’s eligibility to claim various state benefits;

4) Zero hours contracts have also shown themselves to be more open to abuse than regular permanent contracts. For example, scheduling of working hours in the homecare sector that allowed no time for travel time between home visits has led to staff working considerably beyond their paid hours in some cases;

5) Uncertainty about hours offered each week can lead to fear among staff about complaining or raising issues concerning any aspect of the job or service.

Conference notes UNISON’s excellent work on the Ethical Care Charter for homecare workers which has urged local councils to guarantee hours instead of zero hour contracts, payment of travel time, and hourly rates of at least the Living Wage.

Conference notes nineteen local authorities have currently adopted UNISON’s Ethical Care Charter.

Conference congratulates Black homecare workers in Haringey taking action against Haringey council and their employer for alleged failure to pay the minimum wage.

We therefore call on the local government service group executive to work with the national Black members committee and the private contractors national forum to:

a)Undertake a survey of members to enquire how many Black workers have taken on a second job who are on zero hours contracts;

b) Consider ways to promote the values of trade union membership and Black members self-organisation and produce a basic guide for workers on know your right;.

c) Ensure Black members are fully aware and are at the forefront of the campaign to demand local councils adopt UNISON’s Ethical Care Charter.