Zero hour contracts

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2019 Local Government Service Group Conference
19 February 2019
Carried as Amended

Conference deplores the use of zero hour contracts in local authorities, schools and in private contractors.

Zero hour contracts represent an incredibly insecure form of employment, and are a major cause of in-work poverty. Employers can cancel shifts at short notice, or not award shifts in the first place. Many zero hour workers don’t know from one week to the next whether they will be able to pay for their food, rent and bills. This often unsteady flow of income can also stop people from claiming certain benefits.

Zero hour contracts are also a major cause of stress. They 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.

In addition, zero hour workers have fewer workplace rights than permanent employees, and inferior terms and conditions – in many cases there is no, or very poor sick pay, and no occupational pension.

Conference believes that the vast majority take zero hour contracts because there are no alternatives – there is insufficient permanent work available and many workers have two or more zero hour based jobs so as to make ends meet.

Most zero hour workers in local government are women, as these contracts are most common in female dominated areas like social care, and a large proportion of zero hour workers are under the age of 25. So zero hour contracts exacerbate inequality in the sector.

Conference believes that the workplace reforms announced by the Government in December 2018 were woefully inadequate. As TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said, “The right to request guaranteed working hours is no right at all”. Employers remain free to decline workers’ requests to move off zero hour contracts and onto guaranteed hours.

Conference notes with alarm, the use of exclusivity contracts, whereby employers can prevent workers working for other employers even when not required by the first employer, and fines for late notification of non-attendance. Conference condemns these practices.

Conference believes that zero hour contracts are also detrimental to the quality of service provision. Zero hour workers are less likely to raise health and safety concerns or safeguarding issues for fear of reprisal and deprivation of work. Good quality public services are best delivered by a workforce that is fairly treated and properly paid. In social care, continuity of care, provided by a stable workforce, is vital.

Conference further believes that privatisation and outsourcing increase the likelihood that zero hour contracts will be used.

Conference therefore calls on the service group executive to:

1)Work with the NEC to campaign for a change in the law to prevent the use of zero hour contracts in local government;

2) Campaign for an end to the use of all zero hour contracts within local government and schools, including by contractors;

3) Seek discussions with the Local Government Association (LGA), the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA), the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) and the Northern Ireland Local Government Association (NILGA), to push them to support the campaign to get rid of zero hour contracts from local government. Work with UNISON’s Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland Regions as appropriate;

4) Campaign to ensure that where zero hour contracts are still used, they do not include punitive elements such as exclusivity clauses or fines for late notification of non-attendance;

5) Review the guidance available to local government branches on zero hour contracts and update it if necessary, ensuring that it includes advice on pushing local authorities to prevent organisations they contract with from using zero hour contracts;

6) Work with Labour Link to feed into reviews by the Labour Party into workplace rights, to highlight the damaging nature of zero hour contracts

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 hour contracts in local government, local authority schools and on outsourced contracts

8) Produce recruitment and organising materials to assist branches and regions in recruiting more zero hour workers into membership and getting them more involved in UNISON.