Opposition Day — [7th Allotted Day] — Zero-hours Contracts

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:45 pm on 16th October 2013.

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Photo of Chuka Umunna Chuka Umunna Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills 12:45 pm, 16th October 2013

I do not deny that it is welcome to see anybody who is out of work getting into work, but as my hon. Friend Alison McGovern put it, the question is: what is the nature of that work?

In fairness to the Secretary of State, I think he wants to act. I know, for example, that he has hit out at people in his Government who want to slash away employment protections, describing them as “head bangers” who see liberalising the labour market as “an aphrodisiac”. Who on earth could he be referring to? I suspect that he is prevented from acting by the Minister of State, Michael Fallon—who is sitting next to him—who has described his boss as “slipping his electronic tag” for daring to speak about the need for a more responsible capitalism, which I would argue includes companies treating their workers fairly. In any case, the Secretary of State has allowed what has happened to go on and has therefore been complicit in watering down people’s rights at work in the way I have described.

Where this Government have failed, we will act. To pick up on the point made earlier, there are little firm data on the extent of the use of zero-hours contracts, partly because many people do not realise that they are on them. However, over the summer months, the Office for National Statistics produced revised figures, putting the number at more than 250,000. That is likely to be a severe underestimate, given that others have estimated that more than 300,000 employees in the care sector alone are now on such contracts. Consequently, I, along with my hon. Friend Andy Sawford, who has campaigned hard on this issue, wrote to the chair of the UK Statistics Authority asking whether the ONS would clarify the data and publish new figures in the light of the evidence that has arisen. He said that the ONS was reviewing the way it collects the data and looking at whether it can include the data collected by organisations such as the CIPD. However, finding out how many of these contracts are in use is one thing; looking at how they are used is another.