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I was the Head of Policy and Public Affairs at UNISON Scotland until my retirement in September 2018. I now work on several policy development projects, so all views are very definitely my own. You can also follow me on Twitter. I hope you find this blog interesting and I would welcome your comments.

Friday, 25 April 2014

Welcome boost to campaign against zero-hour contracts

The Labour Leader Ed Miliband met trade unions in Scotland today before launching the findings of the independent Pickavance Review into how to help employers compete on higher wages, skills and productivity – rather than on exploitative zero hours contracts.

Last month I gave evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee on this issue and their subsequent report is an excellent analysis of why enforced zero-hours contracts are bad for workers, the economy and the delivery of public services.

Ed Milband reflected those findings today when he said:

Zero hour contracts have spread like an epidemic across our economy. The Government’s own figures say they have increased three-fold since 2010 and some estimates suggest there are one million people on these contracts across the UK including at least 90,000 here in Scotland. Sometimes, they can provide short term flexibility for employers and employees alike. But we know most employers don’t use them and for good reasons: the widespread use of zero-hours contracts is incompatible with building a loyal, skilled and productive workforce. And we also know a minority of employers are misusing zero hours contracts as a crude way of cutting costs or managing staff. “It has left too many people not knowing how they will make ends meet from one week to the next, and unable to plan for the future. “

The key recommendations from today’s report include giving new legal rights to employees on zero hours contracts:

• To demand a fixed hours contract when they have worked regular hours over six months with the same employer

• To receive a fixed hours contract automatically when they have worked regular hours over a year - unless they decide to opt out

• To be protected from employers forcing them to be available at all hours, insisting they cannot work for anyone else, or cancelling shifts at short notice without compensation.

He made it clear at today’s meeting that the report is the starting point for a dialogue on this issue, as we made a number of detailed points about how this plan could be strengthened. However, the important point is that he gets the principle and is prepared to make his position clear.

It also fits in well with Labour’s developing narrative that we need to develop a high wage, skilled and productive economy – not engage in a race to the bottom. A message that I see the crumbling CBI has not yet grasped! The Scottish Government might also want to think about this in the context of their plans to cut Corporation Tax.

UK political leaders have a bad habit of coming to Scotland to tell us about all the terrible things that will happen if we vote for independence. Thanks, but we can spot the weaknesses of both campaigns pretty well ourselves. So it was refreshing to hear the Labour Leader make the positive case for the union with a practical policy initiative. More of this would be very welcome!

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