Vince Cable, the business secretary has announced moves to ban exclusivity clauses in the contacts. He introduced a bill on Wednesday that aims to clamp down on abuses, but critics argue that this is not enough to protect workers.
The exclusivity clauses are quite oppressive since they reduce the workers’ earnings. Official figures put the estimates of such contacts at 1.4 million. 1/3 million of such contracts were inactive in the three weeks in January when assessors checked the books of the employers.
The bill would give more flexibility to workers who are currently forced by draconian contract to stick to one employer even if they could get some time to work for other employers and earn some extra cash.
After six months of consultation, the business secretary assured employees on zero-hours contracts that they will have the freedom to work for more than one employer.
These exclusivity clauses can prevent an employee from working for another employer, even if his work is not guaranteed. Cable said a ban on them is part of a bid to check abuses in the workplace. It is set to benefit 125000 workers who are on zero–hours contracts.
But anti-poverty groups and Labour said this was too little and accused him of ignoring people who suffer insecure employment, with his plans which they say is for only limited improvements in workers’ rights. A spokeswoman for a campaign group dubbed 38 Degrees said that a ban on exclusivity in zero-hours contracts is a good first step, but it doesn’t go far enough in addressing workers rights.
Vince Cable argues that even though Zero-hours contracts have a place in today’s labour market since they offer valuable flexible working opportunities for older people, students and other people looking to top up their income and find work that suits their personal circumstances, it has become clear that some unscrupulous employers abuse this flexibility to the detriment of their workers. “Today, we are legislating to clamp down on abuses to ensure people get a fair deal” he said.
But Chuka Umunna, the Labour’s shadow business secretary, said the government was presiding over a rising tide of insecurity that had turned zero-hours contracts into the norm in parts of the economy. He added that the Tory-led government has watered down people’s rights at work and failed to match Labour’s plans to outlaw zero-hours contracts where they exploit people.
Chuka Umunna said that Labour will ensure that employees get a fair deal and proper protections so they are paid if shifts are cancelled at short notice, are not forced to be available around the clock, and are able to demand a full contract if they are working regular hours.
Cable said he was still consulting on how to prevent employers from evading the exclusivity ban.
He has warned that most attempts to control rogue employers will founder without strict policing. And that his department will work with unions and employer groups to try to limit the scope for evasion.
The head of employment Policy at EEF, said it was necessary for manufacturers to use zero-hours contracts where skills are in scarce supply. He said there is need to balance between supporting the majority of workers who want to continue with these contracts and limiting their use.