We need your support to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can continue to hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Zero-hours Contracts

Oral Answers to Questions — Business, Innovation and Skills – in the House of Commons at 9:30 am on 26th March 2015.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn Labour, Newport West 9:30 am, 26th March 2015

If he will ensure that employees working on zero-hours contracts who are in practice working regular hours over an extended period have the right to a fixed-term contract.

Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Department for Education) (Women and Equalities) , The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills

All employees on a zero-hours contract can already, after 26 weeks, request a move to a fixed-hours contract. That flexible working legislation measure was implemented on 30 June 2014. In the Small Business, Employment and Enterprise Bill, we will ban the unfair use of exclusivity clauses in zero-hours contracts, and the employment status review is looking further at the employment rights that zero-hours workers have.

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn Labour, Newport West

May I take the Minister forward to the morning of 8 May, when she will be in her kitchen having a moment of kitchen candour over her muesli, liberated from control by the thought police of the Tory nomenklatura, and she will be making a judgment on her Department’s legacy on the question of the most vulnerable of workers, those on low pay and on zero-hours contracts? Would that verdict not be, “Nothing achieved, much lost”?

Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Department for Education) (Women and Equalities) , The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills

I wholeheartedly disagree with the hon. Gentleman. I am proud that we are taking forward measures in that Bill to protect workers on zero-hours contracts. I am very proud of the work we have done to enforce the national minimum wage, which of course is one of the key protections for workers on low pay. Of course we always need to keep employment law under review, and the employment status review I mentioned is a really useful piece of work that will make sure that the next Parliament can consider these issues further. In terms of modernising workplaces, shared parental leave, flexible working, and increasing the national minimum wage and enforcing it better, we have a very strong record to be proud of.

Photo of Andrew Bridgen Andrew Bridgen Conservative, North West Leicestershire

I, too, am pleased that this Government have been proactive in investigating, consulting and taking bold action to prevent the abuse of zero-hours contracts. Does the Minister agree that that is in contrast with the zero efforts on this subject of the previous Labour Government?

Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Department for Education) (Women and Equalities) , The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills

My hon. Friend rightly points out that it this Government who have taken action on this issue. It is right that as the employment market changes—there will, rightly, always be evolution and flexibility in the UK labour market—we need to make sure we keep the legislation and that framework under review. The work that has been done on the employment status review will play a really important role in forming that discussion in the next Parliament.

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

The Conservative party’s parroting of the slogan, “long-term economic plan” rings very hollowly —[Interruption.] Will Members listen to the views of the constituents of Newcastle? It rings very hollowly in Newcastle where many of my constituents cannot even plan for the next week, because they do not know how many hours they will be working. The exploitative use of zero-hours contracts has rocketed under this Government. Why will the Minister not sign up to Labour’s plans to end it?

Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Department for Education) (Women and Equalities) , The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills

As I have said, we have taken action on zero-hours contracts, and the next Parliament will have to consider whether anything further needs to be done on that issue. We must keep the matter under review. This Government have been absolutely determined to build a stronger economy and a fairer society, and I wholeheartedly agree with that.

Photo of John Cryer John Cryer Labour, Leyton and Wanstead

Zero-hours shifts are often cancelled at 20 or 30 minutes’ notice. Does the Minister think that that is fair? If she thinks it is unfair, what would she do about it?

Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Department for Education) (Women and Equalities) , The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills

There are issues around such contracts that employers should address. We are working with different sectors in industry to encourage them to bring forward guidance on the responsible use of zero-hours contracts. Many people who are on zero-hours contracts are perfectly happy with them. The problem is not with the contracts themselves but with the behaviour of some employers.