Zero Hours Contracts: In Work Poverty?

Many people in Orkney who are on zero hours contracts don’t know it. They are unaware of their rights and who to go to if they have a problem.  The Orkney News will be exploring the issue of zero hours contracts over several editions.

What is a zero hour contract?

zeroA zero hours contract may be referred to as, a contract with no guaranteed hours, according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), where a person is not contracted to work a set number of hours, and is only paid for the number of hours that they actually work. This may suit some people who would like to pick and choose when they work but for many it has proved to be exploitative.

Back in March 2016, speaking for the Scottish Government the then Cabinet Secretary, Roseanna Cunningham said:

“The Scottish Government firmly believes that making employees feel valued, rewarded and engaged in their work is good for growing a sustainable, strong economy. We are leading by example by not directly employing people on zero hours contracts and absolutely condemn the inappropriate use of them.”

“Work practices which place unfair burdens on employees are unacceptable and undermine our ambitions to grow our economy and tackle inequalities in our society. I am very pleased to see, therefore, that we have made further progress in reducing the number of people who are employed on such terms.”

Has progress been made?

BE AWARE: Statistics on zero hours contracts are subject to a health warning. For October to December 2015 figures from the ONS show that:

  • Scotland has the lowest proportion of people in employment on a zero hours contract of all the countries of the UK (Scotland 2.2 per cent, UK 2.5 per cent)
  • The proportion of people in employment on a zero hours contract in Scotland decreased by 0.1 percentage points over the year whereas in the UK it increased by 0.3 percentage points.
  • The estimated number of people who are employed on a zero hours contract in Scotland is 59,000 (down 1,000 over the year).

The health warning is this: because there is no firm definition of ‘zero hours contracts’, many people do not realise they are on one and the number could very well be much higher.


Scottish Parliament

Questions and motions continue to be lodged in the Scottish Parliament on the issue of contracts with no guaranteed hours.

In September 2016 Neil Findlay MSP asked  what action was being taken:

” to end the use of zero- and minimal-hours contracts for public sector social care staff; how it (Scottish Government) monitors and ensures that all travel time is paid; what its position is on staff having to purchase their own uniforms or equipment, and what support it can provide to social care staff in the voluntary and private sectors regarding these matters.”

And in October Pauline McNeill MSP asked “the Scottish Government how it encourages local authorities to end the use of zero-hour contracts.”

Both MSPs were given assurances that the Scottish Government  was addressing the issue. In answer to McNeill’s question, Keith Brown  Cabinet Secretary for the Economy, Jobs and Fair Work said:

“the Scottish Government is doing everything it can to promote good working practices with the powers available to us” ,  and that “Statutory Guidance Addressing Fair Work Practices” was being published.

Keith Brown,  went on to say:

“ This guidance makes it clear that a positive approach to fair work practices can have an impact on the quality of services, goods and works.

Public bodies must now consider, before undertaking a procurement exercise, whether it can include a question on fair work practices, including the inappropriate use of zero hours contracts as part of the competition.”

“ Local authorities are independent corporate bodies whose powers are set out in statute. As long as they act lawfully, it is up to each local authority how it manages its day to day business and decision making processes.”

The use of zero hours contracts in the public sector continues to be used.

The largest use of zero hour contracts, however, is in the accommodation and hospitality sector. In November a motion by Christina McKelvie MSP, in support of the Better Than Zero Campaign failed to be passed in The Scottish Parliament  despite having the support of the Scottish Greens, SNP and Scottish Labour MSPs. In her motion McKelvie stated that statistics:

“suggest 1 in 34 people in Scotland are on zero-hour contracts”  and she continued “ many of the jobs with these contracts are in the hospitality sector, which is predominantly staffed by young workers on very low pay and with little trade union recognition”.

citizens_advice_logoThe place where most people end up for advice if they are worried about their rights when they are on a zero hours contract, is Citizens Advice Scotland. CAS have seen a significant increase in the number of enquiries around this issue. In their evidence to the Economy Energy & Tourism Committee in 2015  Citizens Advice Scotland stated:

“(we) advise clients who are in work, but are struggling to pay for essentials. In-work poverty is a significant concern for CAS, and the most recent figures from the Scottish Government show that almost half of working age adults in poverty (48%) are from working households. It is no longer the case that securing paid employment by itself is a route out of poverty.

The misuse of zero hours contracts has affected CAB clients in both ways – by enabling  ‘bad’ employers to treat workers in an extremely unfair way that ignores some of the most basic employment rights. Their misuse has also had the effect of causing in-work poverty and hardship for zero hours workers, who are left unable to budget, in debt and who have great difficulty securing support from the in-work benefits system due to an unpredictable income.”

More on the issue of zero hours contracts over the next weeks in The Orkney News

Reporter: Fiona Grahame

If you need employment advice you can contact Orkney Citizens Advice 

Young people can also contact Better Than Zero






2 replies »

Leave a Reply