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Higher Education (Zero-hours Contracts)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 7th November 2013.

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Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

5. To ask the Deputy First Minister, in light of the recent report by the Educational Institute of Scotland, what action the Scottish Government is taking to address the use of zero-hours contracts in the higher education sector. (S4F-01658)

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

The EIS campaign is welcome. Universities are autonomous institutions that set their own terms and conditions, but the EIS survey makes for worrying reading.

I was pleased to see that the University of Edinburgh has reached an agreement with the University and College Union to review its use of zero-hours contracts. That shows that the issue can be resolved. The Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council has also contacted Universities Scotland and Colleges Scotland to discuss what support can be provided to share good practice.

Employment law is currently reserved to Westminster but, under the Procurement Reform (Scotland) Bill, statutory guidance will be issued to encourage good employment practices, by allowing a company’s approach to workforce-related matters to be considered when its suitability to bid for public sector contracts is assessed.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

When will the Deputy First Minister’s Government show the leadership on the issue that Scotland expects? Her ministers continue to defend the use of, and the awarding of Government grants to, multinational companies that use zero-hours contracts.

We now know that at least 8,000 people are working under those contracts in higher education and that a further 1,000 are doing so in further education. Through freedom of information requests, I have discovered that at least 27,000 people are working under zero-hours contracts in the devolved public sector, which is the area for which the Government has entire responsibility. When will the Deputy First Minister show the leadership that we demand and end that invidious employment practice?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

I think that I, the First Minster and other Government ministers have made it clear that we deprecate and condemn the inappropriate use of zero-hours contracts. In my first answer, I read out what progress has been made in the university sector—not enough; we need to do more—and action that the Scottish Government is taking through the Procurement Reform (Scotland) Bill. If Ken Macintosh or any other member has evidence that they want to share with us, I would very happy to see it, and would welcome receipt of it.

The area is another one in which it is easy to throw brickbats at each other. We all do that—myself included—but let us also try to work together sometimes. We all agree that the inappropriate use of zero-hours contracts is unacceptable, so let us agree to work together to try to do something real about it.