Zero-Hour Contracts (Amendment) Bill 2015

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The question is that the bill be read a third time.

Aye
5
42%
Noe
7
58%
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Total votes: 12

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Anne Blakesley
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Zero-Hour Contracts (Amendment) Bill 2015

Post by Anne Blakesley »

Zero-Hour Contracts (Amendment) Bill 2015

Mr Speaker,

I beg leave to introduce the Zero-Hour Contracts (Amendment) Bill 2015.

Mr Speaker,

Zero-hour contracts are, fundamentally, a vehicle for low and exploitative pay and working conditions in the United Kingdom. That is a fact that cannot be ignored. Many zero-hour contract workers earn less. Many zero-hour contract workers lack critical benefits. Many zero-hour contract workers experience labour exploitation. These are absolute facts.

Yet, for some, we must acknowledge that zero-hour contracts are an important part of their lives. A number of workers, particularly students and retirees choosing to work, prefer the flexibility that zero-hour contracts enable. That they have the ability to encourage participation in the workforce is commendable. Though they have this capability, we must recognise that there are a number of workers that seek more stable work – that do not benefit from the “flexible” nature of these contracts.

That is the crux of where zero-hour contracts must be regulated. Enabling flexibility in the labour market is important to competitiveness. Ensuring that workers are not exploited, however, is vital for basic human dignity. These two functions are tasked to the government: to enable and ensure. And the reality is that we require regulatory flexibility if we are to achieve both of these outcomes.

It is in that spirit that the Government puts forward the Zero-Hour Contracts (Amendment) Bill. This bill has a relatively straightforward purpose. It amends the enacting clause of the Zero-Hour Contracts Act to allow the Secretary of State to postpone the enactment of the Zero-Hour Contracts Act – preventing it from automatically coming into effect. Additionally, it allows the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Low Pay Commission, to set a separate minimum wage that is applied to zero-hour contracts, setting pay at up to 20% higher than the existing statutory minimum wage applied to an individual.

The goal of this proposal is straightforward. In the coming months, the Government will publish guidance on the use of zero-hour contracts. It is my intention that, should companies adhere to this guidance, there will be no need for zero-hour contracts to be made illegal. They will remain an important tool for labour market flexibility without allowing for the exploitation of workers. This guidance will, additionally, include information designed to prevent the abuse of the system that is established by unscrupulous employers.

The exact nature of this guidance will include rules regarding the appropriate conduct of employers and provisions preventing retaliation against those employed on zero-hour contracts who decline shifts. They will be designed to prevent companies from weaponising zero-hour contracts against their staff, as Amazon was reported to have done in 2013. And they will be designed to ensure that those on zero-hour contracts are paid fairly.

And should companies not adhere to that guidance voluntarily, the Government will be able to enact further statutory requirements or end the use of zero-hour contracts once and for all. There is a necessary partnership between government, employees, and employers. And this government intends to effectively referee that partnership to ensure fair outcomes for both employees and employers. We intend to ensure that labour market flexibility is a feature, not a flaw, of the British economy.

This bill helps us to achieve that.

I commend this bill to the House.
Dr Anne Blakesley PhD DCB MP
Chancellor of the Exchequer | Energy and Environment Secretary
Labour Party | Hackney South and Shoreditch
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Re: Zero-Hour Contracts (Amendment) Bill 2015

Post by Axon »

Mr Speaker

Order! Second Reading. I call upon the Member for [Conservative Speaker].
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Andrew Lam
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Re: Zero-Hour Contracts (Amendment) Bill 2015

Post by Andrew Lam »

Mr Speaker,

I’d like to take this time to welcome my colleague opposite, the Right Honourable Chancellor and Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch. I’d further like to welcome the somewhat sensible decision to actually listen to the comments made by the Opposition- myself included- on the last time this House had a debate on Zero Hours Contracts. I, among others, pointed out the fact there are many workers who depend on these contracts and indeed who favour them for their flexibility. I, among others, pointed out the importance of a flexible labour market in promoting innovation and growth in our country. That argument is repeated practically verbatim by the current Chancellor.

However, it is the decisions made after that which are concerning. Because reading through the proposed legislation here, the word that I would think of with the level of care and thought given to this legislation is “concerning.”

Another word I can think of is dangerous.

Mr Speaker, this legislation, in conjunction with the legislation that it seeks to amend and the statements by the current Chancellor and the thankfully-reassigned former Chancellor, is nothing more than a blatant attempt to threaten and coerce business into behaving in a certain way. Further, there is no indication that this Government wants to actually address the way businesses ought to act with respect to Zero Hours Contracts.

The Chancellor has stated, in far more words than I do here, this legislation is designed to be the over-used “or else.” That’s all this is, and the Chancellor says as much.

Business out to use Zero Hours Contracts the way that this Government expects them to be used… or else. Rather than address those that weaponise Zero Hours Contracts in the way the Chancellor has stated, she’s chosen instead to engage in an arms race by weaponising legislation on the issue.

This weaponisation does not just affect businesses; it affects workers. Those who might value or use these contracts could, under this legislation and the statements made by the Chancellor, wake up one morning and find their contact is voided by an act of this Government with no advance warning, no clarity… and with no recourse to actually save their jobs. If this Government wanted to enact the ban on Zero Hours Contracts tomorrow, they could with this legislation… and I would hate to think of the fallout on small businesses and workers alike.

I wish to re-enter a statement I made earlier on Zero Hours Contracts:
In a survey conducted by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development- the CIPD- it was found that one-quarter of zero hours workers were full-time students. Taking away this employment option leaves literally thousands upon thousands of young people without a way to get work that they actually want.

Yes, Mr. Speaker, actually want. Because that same CIPD study looking at overall satisfaction found that 65% of workers on a zero hours contract were satisfied or very satisfied with their condition. That compares quite favorably when the same survey found that only 63% of all workers could report the same level of satisfaction. And those that were dissatisfied with zero hours contracts? 16%, which is less than the 18% of all workers that were dissatisfied.
This statement is important because the views of those people are not being considered here. They were not in the last bill, and in this legislation they’re told that their jobs are going to be used as a stick, a cudgel, a tool that will be called upon the moment that the Chancellor decides it is time to use the “or else” clause of governing.

And we don’t even know what the “or else” clause will be used for. In the address introducing this legislation, the Chancellor notes that one of those clauses is related to wages: that those on Zero Hours Contracts must be paid a higher wage- potentially putting those on Zero Hours Contracts at a higher wage than their fully-contracted counterparts.

I’ll put aside the paradox created by the Chancellor in this instance: the paradox of wanting to use a stick against Zero Hours Contracts while at the same time providing an incentive for workers to ask for them. Those under Zero Hours Contracts are already covered by National Minimum Wage legislation. It is not as though these contracts are being used to exploit a loophole in legislation.

Now, if this Government wanted to truly address legitimate concerns with Zero Hours Contracts- something that the Opposition supports- they ought to start with exclusivity.

I note that it was the last Coalition Government that provided for the unenforceability of exclusivity clauses on Zero Hours Contracts through the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015. That legislation- again, passed by the last Coalition Government- conferred upon the Secretary of State the reasonable and the clear powers to actually put regulations in place to cancel those clauses and to put appropriate sanctions in place against those that would try to enforce exclusivity clauses.

I further note that rather than use those powers granted- powers which are clear, limited, and predictable- the Chancellor has decided instead that it is far more proper to use an “or else” clause for this wage proposal and apparently any future guidance that the Chancellor wishes to put in place through potentially arbitrary and capricious means.

I also note that this proposal as well as proposed codes and recommendations on the use of Zero Hours Contracts were again put forward by the last Coalition Government through the use of public hearings, through allowing unions and businesses and workers alike to have a fair say on how these contracts should be and should not be used.

I further note that the Chancellor has decided this input is unsatisfactory, and that instead, in her own remarks, she has stated that it is her office that shall have the ability to decide not only how contracts should be used, but when. Because we cannot forget this legislation would continue to leave in place the provisions that allow for the suspension on the ban on Zero Hours Contracts whenever the appropriate Secretary feels like it.

Mr Speaker, I want to introduce one more concept to this.

Businesses thrive on predictability. I don’t think anyone can deny that. Indeed, one of the arguments that has been put forward against Zero Hours Contracts is that they may in some cases- when abused- deny predictability to workers under those contracts. This legislation now would take predictability away from businesses and workers alike.

Businesses and workers will be subject to guidance that is unreleased. That will be crafted through heretofore unknown methods. That will have an unclear level of whether it is guidance, a recommendation, a best practice, or a provision with the effective force of law. That will be released on an unknown date and with an unknown effective date. They will be forced to issue entirely new contracts on an unknown date… and that’s if they have time at all. They have an unknown way to enforce their rights- and this holds true for workers as well as for businesses.

We see a Government that is weaponising its power and weaponising predictability. And for what, we can’t even answer that.

I urge the Chancellor to have a re-think of this legislation. Let’s have an honest conversation about what we want to see and how we get there. This Government has already put in place a ticking time bomb through the passage of the original legislation… and the last thing we need to do is make it work by passing this amendment which could well blow up in our face.

I offer myself as ready and willing to have a conversation on Zero Hours Contracts and how to address real and legitimate concerns. But this legislation is the absolute wrong way to do it. I fear for businesses, I fear for workers, I fear for our economy and what could happen if we allow this legislation to pass.
Andrew Lam MP
MP for East Hampshire (2010-) | Conservative
Shadow Chancellor (2016-)
Shadow Home Secretary (2015-2016)
Minister of State for Business and Enterprise (2014-2015)
Minister for Portsmouth (2014-2015)
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Re: Zero-Hour Contracts (Amendment) Bill 2015

Post by Axon »

Mr Speaker

ORDER! Division, clear the lobby.
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