Parliament launches inquiry into zero hours contracts

By Emer O’Toole

The UK Parliament Scottish Affairs Select Committee has launched an inquiry into the use of zero hours contracts in Scotland following evidence it has received from Unite the Union.

The term ‘zero hours contract’ refers to an arrangement in which the employee has no guaranteed weekly hours and are only paid for the work carried out, leading to a potentially unreliable workforce.

Some employers have taken advantage of zero hours contracts to lower wages, dodge holiday pay, pensions and other benefits and incentives given to staff.

Unite, the UK’s biggest union, with 1.4 million representatives employed across all areas of the economy, supports the Scottish Affairs Committee’s investigation into the exploitation of employees on zero hours contracts following evidence from an independent social survey.

The evidence was gathered from conversations with 300 Scottish zero hours employees and revealed shocking statistics including: 62 per cent of zero hours workers get paid just above the minimum wage and 72 per cent revealed that given the choice they would not be on a zero hours contract.

The independent social survey company Mass1 gathered Unite’s research findings which convey an increasing subclass of anxious and low paid workers.

This information was backed by case studies that members have shared with Unite, demonstrating disgraceful levels of abuse by employers who are using zero hours contracts to keep wages low.

Pat Rafferty, Unite Scottish Secretary, commented:

“The growth in this phenomenon is the latest mutation of precarious employment, which is condemning millions of workers to an insecure subclass of employment. People on zero hours contracts are often banned from accessing basic services, like a mobile phone contract, or renting a home, as they have no way of planning their finances.

“Not only is it a nightmare for workers, it also undercuts decent employers who treat their employees properly.”

A significant number of high street chains currently make wide scale use of zero hours contracts.

The Committee discovered that across the UK, 83,800 McDonald’s staff; 20,000 Burger King staff; 20,000 Domino’s pizza staff and 3,600 Cineworld staff are on these contracts.

Ian Davidson MP, chair of the Scottish Affairs Select Committee, said:

“We would very much like to hear from people who have direct experience of zero hours contacts, so the Committee has launched a consultation seeking advice from those either currently on or previously on zero hours contracts.

“For people who are on such contracts who contact us, all personal information will be redacted from any evidence we publish to illustrate the impact of living and working on zero hours.

“The deadline for responses is 14 October and anyone willing to provide evidence can do so by visiting the Scottish Affairs Committee website.”