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

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:39 pm on 16th October 2013.

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Photo of Julie Elliott Julie Elliott Shadow Minister (Energy and Climate Change) 2:39 pm, 16th October 2013

I am delighted that my hon. Friend the shadow Business Secretary has secured this Opposition day debate, which is about an issue that many hon. Friends and I have been campaigning on for months, if not years.

In July, as we have heard, I led a debate in Westminster Hall on zero-hours contracts. I do not intend to condense that rather longer speech today. In it, I referred to individual cases in care homes and explored the wide-ranging use of these contracts in the NHS, including for tens of thousands of nurses and midwives. Instead, I intend to take a broader approach and look at what the widespread use of these contracts says about our labour market.

I am pleased to note the presence of Conservative and Liberal Democrat colleagues, because in my Westminster Hall debate in July I was dismayed to see not a single Conservative or Liberal Democrat Back Bencher in attendance. Although the 17 Labour MPs who spoke led to an interesting and worthwhile debate, I have attended many Labour party meetings in my time and the debate was a missed opportunity for real cross-party dialogue.

It cannot be that not a single person in coalition constituencies is employed on zero-hours contracts. In fact, unlike Guy Opperman, who has said that he has not come across anybody in rural Northumberland who is unhappy with these contracts, I have met such people and they are out there.

I have spoken to many people who are on these contracts. Some are happy with them, but the vast majority are not. We should all be concerned that this country essentially has a large pool of workers living permanently on call, without guaranteed incomes, who do not know whether they will be able to pay their bills. We cannot sit by while workers on zero-hours contracts earn, according to research by the Resolution Foundation, 40% less than those on regular contracts.

A Labour Government would ban employers from insisting that zero-hours workers be available when there is no guarantee of work; stop zero-hours contracts that require workers to work exclusively for one business; and end the misuse of these contracts where employees are, in practice, working regular hours over a sustained period.

I believe that an outright ban would be neither helpful nor practical. Labour is clear on that. Mr Newmark seemed to be under the illusion that we were calling for an outright ban, but that is not the case. A ban on zero-hours contracts could lead many less scrupulous employers simply to introduce one-hour contracts. We know that that is a realistic possibility, as the rise of zero-hours contracts seems to be linked to the closure of loopholes by the introduction of temporary and agency workers regulations.

As I have said on previous occasions, the issue is not zero-hours contracts, which have always been around, but the massive increase in what seems to be exploitation of workers, by which I do not mean employees, because the people on these contracts are not classified as such.