Orkney Islands Council employs 1009 people on zero hours contracts which includes 330 since 6th April 2016. Why is this a problem? Why should we be concerned?
What are “zero-hours contracts”?
There is no single agreed definition of what “zero-hours contracts” are. While some contracts are explicitly called zero-hours contracts, there are other definitions available and used in published statistics. The common element to the definitions is the lack of a guaranteed minimum number of hours. They have been closely linked with low pay,in work poverty and inequality.
Only a year ago Roseanna Cunningham, the then Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary for Fair Work, Skills and Training 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.”
And yet not only does Orkney Islands Council have people on zero hours contracts but they continue to employ workers under these discredited conditions.
In October 2016 ,Pauline McNeill MSP, questioned the Scottish Government about what it was doing to end the use of zero hours contracts by local authorities. Keith Brown, on behalf of the Scottish Government answered:
“The Scottish Government promotes the benefits of Fair Work. While employment law remains reserved to the UK Government, the Scottish Government is doing everything it can to promote good working practices with the powers available to us. This includes publishing Statutory Guidance Addressing Fair Work Practices. 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.”
Low Pay & Inequality in Orkney
Figures obtained from Orkney Islands Council using a Freedom of Information request show:
- Employees on permanent full time contracts 807
- Employees on permanent part-time contracts 944
- Employees on temporary full time contracts 100
- Employees on temporary part-time contracts 162
- Employees on zero hour contracts 1009
- Employees on zero hours contracts since 06/04/2016 330
Citizens Advice Scotland has seen a huge rise in people coming to them who are struggling to get by on a daily basis – these people are in work, many of them are in part time work and/or zero hours contracts.
The varying hours and pay which zero hours workers experience makes it difficult to budget and manage household costs. Some weeks they can have no hours of employment and therefore no pay. This can lead to rent arrears and workers seeking high interest credit in order to meet their living costs.
Women and the young make up the largest number of people on zero hours contracts. A report produced for Highlands and Islands Enterprise has shown that in Orkney women are in lower grade and lower paid jobs. The under-employment of women is also a serious concern with Orkney having more women having to care for young and elderly family members than happens nationally. This is also why women are more likely to be in part-time employment. All of these factors have significant implications for addressing the gender pay gap in Orkney and wider inequality issues.
The HIE report states :
“Promoting Inclusive Growth is a key priority in Scotland’s Economic Strategy (SES). Gender equality is also a key feature, and ensuring ‘women’s position in the economy and in employment is improved in the long term and reflected more comprehensively in Scottish Government economic policy and strategies’ is one of the Scottish Government’s eight Equality Outcomes.”
“Research undertaken by Close the Gap on gender equality in pay suggests that equalising gender employment could generate as much as 12% of UK GDP by 2025 – 12% of the Scottish economy at current figures is just over £17 billion”
With average earnings below the national average, if the Orkney economy is to grow the Islands Council needs to seriously address the occupational segregation currently blighting the community. It should also be held to account for not only having workers on zero hours contracts but for continuing to issue them. The use of zero hours contracts must end.
As the major employer, Orkney Islands Council should be leading the way for the people of our islands by demonstrating its commitment to eradicating pay inequality and taking measures to eliminate in work poverty. This is not only morally the right thing to do but it makes sense for the economic prosperity of the islands as a whole and for the well being of its people. It is indefensible that OIC is continuing to use zero hours contracts.
Reporter: Fiona Grahame
Response on The Orkney News Facebook page from Councillor Steven Heddle, Convener of Orkney Islands Council
Steven Heddle There is a big difference between zero hours contracts which suit many people, and exploitative zero hours contracts. This differentiation is recognised by the quotes which speak of inappropriate use of zero hours contracts. The former is easily defensible, but the article does not bother to differentiate, nor to explore what the nature of the council contracts are. In reality the council pays all its staff at least the Living Wage plus Islands Allowance, which is hardly exploitative. The council is very conscious of equality, what more could it do? So are the figures really shocking? Is there really a problem? Do you suggest that everybody should be put on inflexible fixed time contracts that don’t give them the flexibility that many of them need, and mean they are being paid for work that isn’t there for them to do? The way this madness ends us with services being cut to accommodate such waste, and essential jobs being lost. Sorry Fiona, but the figures are being presented here out of context and with insinuation in a way that I would expect from the Daily Mail.