Zero-hours Contracts (16 to 24-year-olds)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 22nd May 2013.

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Photo of Iain Gray Iain Gray Labour

16. To ask the Scottish Government how many more 16 to 24-year-olds are employed on zero-hours contracts than in 2007. (S4O-02150)

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

The Office for National Statistics does not publish information on the number of 16 to 24-year-olds on zero-hours contracts in Scotland. However, last week’s labour market figures show yet again that Scotland has lower unemployment and higher employment rates among our young people in comparison with the United Kingdom.

We remain resolute in our efforts to reduce youth unemployment even further, and the action that we are taking to support young people in employment is making a difference. Our investments in 25,000 modern apprenticeships a year and more than 3,000 community jobs Scotland placements to date, and a £25 million investment to support employer recruitment incentives throughout Scotland this year, are all contributing to quality job opportunities for young people.

Photo of Iain Gray Iain Gray Labour

Presumably, the minister will be aware that the ONS has reported that, for the UK, the number of 16 to 24-year-olds on zero-hours contracts has doubled since the economic downturn. That increase is likely, to some degree at least, to be reflected here in Scotland. I hope that the minister agrees with me that unstable, insecure employment of that kind, especially for young people, amounts to little more than exploitation.

I understand that employment law is reserved, but I am interested not in what could be done if that were to change but in what could be done now to address the position. Will the Scottish Government use its significant power as a purchaser of goods and services to turn down bids that propose to use zero-hours contracts, as was recommended last week by the Scotland Institute?

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

Let me reassure Mr Gray that, in all our endeavours to boost youth employment, we are seeking to create substantial and sustainable employment opportunities for young people. To give one example, 79 per cent of those who complete modern apprenticeships secure full-time employment. I take the point that has been made about zero-hours contracts. Although some people will choose to undertake zero-hours contracts because they want and need that flexibility for their life circumstances, I also accept that zero-hours contracts are part of a wider problem of underemployment in Scotland. We know that young people are hit the hardest by unemployment and underemployment.

I take exception to what Mr Gray says about employment powers. I think that it is highly pertinent to the debate what we could do if we had powers over employment law, which would also mean that our debate on the issue would be a little less theoretical.

Photo of Iain Gray Iain Gray Labour

Is Ms Constance saying that the Scottish National Party’s position is that, given control over employment law, it would ban zero-hours contracts, as the Labour Party leader Mr Miliband has committed to do? [Iain Gray has corrected his contribution. See end of report.]

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

No, what I am saying—[Interruption.] Presiding Officer, I am trying to explain exactly what I said, despite being rather rudely heckled.

What I am saying is that it would be more pertinent if this Parliament had employment law within its remit, and I have argued for that pretty much all my political life. I think that Mr Gray is being rather disingenuous. We will lay out in full what we would like to do with employment law, but I think that it is important that employment law should come within the province of this Parliament. We will not get even the choice or opportunity to shape employment law in the way that we would wish without that power. In that sense, Mr Gray’s questions are rather theoretical. Let us not put the horse before the cart but have employment law devolved to this Parliament instead of leaving it abandoned to Westminster.

I have no doubts that there are problems with zero-hours contracts and that those are part of a wider problem to do with underemployment. This Parliament and Government are also focused on doing what we can to resolve that issue using the powers that we have.

Photo of Colin Beattie Colin Beattie Scottish National Party

Will the minister join me in welcoming the fact that youth unemployment has fallen by 27,000 over the past year and has remained lower in Scotland than in the UK? Does she agree that there is evidence that the Scottish Government’s action on youth unemployment is having an impact?

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

I think that our distinctive policies and approach in Scotland are having some positive outcomes. Our approach includes an unremitting focus on tackling youth unemployment, which I think is shared across Parliament and, arguably, across Scotland, given that Scottish employers are more likely to employ young people under 25 than companies elsewhere in the UK are. Policies such as our modern apprenticeship programme are leading to sustainable employment—and to full-time employment at that.

Our policies on paid internships have resulted in very good outcomes for graduates, with 70 per cent of the 800 graduates who have participated in Government-funded schemes going into employment. It is important that we get more of our graduates into graduate-level employment, because that will help to address underemployment. That is something that we are doing now with the limited powers that we have.