Unions’ disappointment as government fails to ban zero hours contracts

Zero hours contracts remain, despite the government today unveiling what it describes as the “largest upgrade in a generation to workplace rights”.

Unions say the government’s Good Work Plan, published this morning, does not go far enough to protect workers from exploitation.

Following recommendations in last year’s Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices, the government’s plan addresses employment status, agency workers, transparency in the labour market and enforcement of employment rights. The legislation will:

  • close a loophole by repealing the Swedish derogation – which currently allows agency workers to be employed on cheaper rates than permanent counterparts
  • extend the right to a day one written statement of rights to workers, going further to include detail on rights such as eligibility for sick leave and pay and details of other types of paid leave, such as maternity and paternity leave
  • quadruple maximum employment tribunal fines for employers who are demonstrated to have shown malice, spite or gross oversight from £5,000 to £20,000
  • extend the holiday pay reference period from 12 to 52 weeks, ensuring those in seasonal or atypical roles get the paid time off they are entitled to
  • lower the threshold required for a request to set up Information and Consultation arrangements from 10% to 2%

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “These reforms as a whole won’t shift the balance of power in the gig economy. Unless unions get the right to organise and bargain for workers in places like Uber and Amazon, too many working people will continue to be treated like disposable labour.

“The right to request guaranteed working hours is no right at all. Zero-hours contract workers will have no more leverage than Oliver Twist.”

The TUC this morning tweeted: “Today’s announcement on workers’ rights won’t shift the balance of power in the gig economy. A right to request guaranteed working hours is no right at all. Hundreds of thousands are trapped on insecure zero-hours contracts. The government should ban them once and for all.”

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “The government’s plans are reluctant baby steps at best, and hardly give confidence that post-Brexit UK will be a country of decent jobs.

“This is a time of historic low wages and of chronic job insecurity. We need proper, substantial action to combat this but what is on offer today falls well short of what this country needs to deliver work that pays.

“People on zero hour contracts and workers in the insecure economy need much more than a weak right to request a contract and more predictable hours.

“No matter how many times the government re-announces the same offer, unless and until this country takes a leaf out of New Zealand’s book by banning the use of zero hours altogether, working people will continue to be exploited and work will never be the route out of poverty.”

In March, Thompsons’ Solicitors chief executive Stephen Cavalier wrote for union-news.co.uk about how Taylor’s review was a “limp response to a limp report“.

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