Liverpool Labour is spearheading a major new initiative on zero hours contracts.

Zero hours contracts, which have been much in the news lately, are employment contracts where the employee doesn’t have any guaranteed hours when they’re employed. While such contracts may be beneficial for some workers who choose to work in a more flexible way, the use of these contracts has exploded in the last few years under the Con Dem Government. This explains why unemployment looks like it’s falling and why so many more people in work are also in poverty. Many, but by no means all, zero hours contracts are also used by employers to exploit workers, so they can avoid holiday and sickness pay and giving workers the rights they’re due.

Since 2010 research from the TUC has shown that nearly half of all new jobs created have been in involuntary zero hours jobs. The latest Labour Force Survey published quarterly by the Office for National Statistics estimates that around 250,000 people are on zero-hours contracts. But the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development concludes there could be as many as 1 million UK workers now on zero hours contracts. Shockingly, though, even the 1 million figure may be an underestimate of the true extent of zero hours jobs, as many employees may simply not be aware that they are on zero-hours contracts. In Liverpool we estimate that between 3,500 and 6,000 people could be employed on zero hours contracts. In the wider City Region that figure could be as high as 19,000.

We’re working to set up an Employment Charter– the first of its kind in the country. This builds on the work local MPs Alison McGovern, Luciana Berger and George Howarth did last year with their Zero Hours Summit. The Charter will set out some principles for businesses on the use of zero hours contracts and agencies. It will challenge employers to look first at other ways of flexible working like part-time working. It will set out a series of minimum standards we would expect employers in the small number of cases where zero hours contracts may be appropriate. These include making sure employees have written and easily understood terms of employment, giving employees on zero hours contracts the right to turn work down and the right to work for other employers, if they want to. It will also encourage employers to give staff who’ve been working regular hours for six months the right to have a contract with fixed hours and to allocate working hours with reasonable one week’s notice.

There’s been a lot of debate lately about councils who use zero hours contracts. It’s right that Labour councils should lead the way on this and set a good example to other employers. In Liverpool City Council we’ve got a small number of directly employed staff on zero hours contracts. These are specific jobs like sports coaches, sessional tutors and events staff. Other councils don’t employ these staff directly; they use agencies. Instead we choose to employ these directly with the City Council to give these workers the same strong rights as every other council worker. In these specific cases there aren’t other flexible alternatives and all staff have the rights we’re asking every employer to sign up to under the Employment Charter.

We’re confident that in setting up the Employment Charter and sending out a message loud and clear that we want to crack down on a zero hours culture, we’re helping to build a strong, prosperous and fair future for the Liverpool.

Councillor Nick Small

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