Unions back zero hours contracts campaign

A campaign led by a coalition of concerned citizens working together, with representatives from the TUC and responsible employers, has been launched today with the aim of ending zero hours contracts.

The Zero Hours Justice campaign is led by BFAWU president Ian Hodson, who has huge experience of workers’ rights issues. Ian has joined campaign founder and funder, Julian Richer (entrepreneur, author of The Ethical Capitalist and avid campaigner for responsible capitalism) and employment law specialists, Thompsons Solicitors, with the backing of the TUC, to deliver a sustained campaign to ensure those suffering at the mercy of zero hours contracts have a voice and to challenge the status quo.

The organisers believe the UK is one of only six EU countries that still use zero hours contracts.  In the UK, they are widely enforced, affecting as many as 1 million workers (plus their families) on a daily basis, causing stress and misery to the great majority of recipients.

Ian Hodson said: “Those on zero hours contracts are amongst the most vulnerable in our society. Many of them feel powerless to complain, even if they suffer serious problems at work like bullying and sexual harassment. The response from managers can be threats to cut their hours of work. But they simply can’t afford to lose any pay, so what can they do?

“We have cases where managers text people to come straight in. But when they arrive, they find the same text was sent to several workers and only one is needed. And they don’t get their travel costs back, so it’s like being on negative pay.

“Lots of landlords won’t take you if you are on a zero hours contract. And of course, you can’t get a mortgage. So, we have members who have been forced to live in places that are unfit for habitation and dangerous to their health.

“Nobody should have to live like that in 21st Century Britain. Every job should give people the basic security they need to live a decent life.”

Julian Richer said: “This is an apolitical campaign for those who want a better society. We want our campaign to be a coming together of interested parties to end the awful practice of zero hours contracts. As an employer, I care passionately about my colleagues.

“I can’t imagine anything more likely to cause misery than not knowing day-to-day whether they will have enough money for food or rent. Maybe such contracts can work for a small minority of workers who have other significant household incomes or for students with wealthy parents, but for the vast majority this evil way of exploiting people at work must be banned – as indeed they are in the great majority of European countries. If we can’t give working people basic security, we should be ashamed.”

James Bloodworth, author of Hired: Six Months Undercover in Low-Wage Britain, said: “I worked in several zero hours contract jobs as part of the research for my book and it was striking to me the level of insecurity zero hours contracts created among workers who were already having to cope with low-pay and brutal employment conditions. Not knowing from week to week how many hours you would be given by your employer added another layer of precarity to jobs that were already in many instances done by people who were struggling financially.

“Furthermore, government policy when it comes to the benefits system has made life harder for those on zero hours contracts. Should a worker leave a job of their own volition, they are not entitled to claim jobseekers’ allowance. This leaves many workers trapped in jobs in which they are not being given enough hours each week to make ends meet.

“This in turn is generating a big increase in in-work poverty and food bank use. Employed on a zero hours contract, a worker may be working as little as five hours a week – yet still he or she may be unable to get another job or leave and claim jobseekers’ allowance while they look for something full time. It’s nothing but cruel and I lend my support to Zero Hours Justice to help in any way I can.”

Rakesh Patel, head of employment rights strategy at Thompsons Solicitors, said: “With almost 900,000 people working on a zero-hours contract – four times that of 20 years ago – it’s time for the government to move past vague promises to “end low pay” and ensure that all UK workers are given the basic rights and job security to live a normal life.

“We are proud to support the TUC and the trade union movement’s calls to ban zero-hours contracts and send a clear message to unscrupulous employers that these exploitative working practices cannot continue.”

The aims of Zero Hours Justice are:

–          To educate and sway public opinion against zero hours contracts and how much stress and misery they cause.

–          To offer legal help to those abused by the misuse of zero hours contracts by providing expert legal advice clinics by qualified solicitors.

–          To test and change the law on zero hours contracts in the UK, where possible, by strategic litigation, taking relevant legal cases to court.

–          To name and shame employers who use zero hours contracts by publishing a list of as many as possible in an effort to encourage them to think again.

–          To emphasise to businesses the value of employing workers on fair contracts that guarantee certain hours and the benefits and positivity this can bring to an organisation.

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