End the abuse of Zero Hours contracts

Mar 1, 2017 | Articles, Assembly Business, Assembly Issues | 0 comments

Plenary Wednesday 01 March 2017

17:46:30

Spoken Contribution – 17:46:30

The issue of zero-hours contracts is a major one for many people in the job market in Wales; so, I welcome the debate brought forward today by my colleague David Rowlands. UKIP’s UK-wide policy, as outlined in the 2015 general election manifesto, is to end the abuse of zero-hours contracts. We do not call today for an outright ban as we recognise that some workers may benefit from them, but for the majority of workers these contracts do constitute a sort of insecurity and anxiety. So, we do need to examine if there is any way of tackling this issue through the Assembly.

A pertinent question in this regard is one of legal competence. Does any area of employment law rightly fall within the competence of the Assembly? Opinions do seem to vary on this point, but with the Welsh Government attempting to pilot the Trade Union (Wales) Bill through the Assembly currently, we will proceed today on the basis of the assurances that finance Minister Mark Drakeford has given: that the Assembly does have competence over public sector employment; although, in reality, that case may not be proven. So, if it is the case that the Assembly has competence in this field, then there is scope for legislation in this place on zero-hours contracts. We then have to establish the following: one, is there widespread abuse of zero-hours contracts by employers? Two, does this abuse take place in Wales and in the public sector? And three, what should we do to address this problem if it exists?

There was a survey carried out in 2013 by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development—CIPD—which quizzed the employers regarding their use of zero-hours contracts. One in five respondents reported that they used zero-hours contracts—or ZHCs—to avoid costs to their own company, rather than to benefit the employee. There was also evidence that, once employment rights were strengthened for agency workers, employers began limiting their use of agency contracts in favour of greater use of ZHCs.

There is also evidence that this was happening in the public sector. In 2015, the Welsh Government brought out a research paper investigating the use of ZHCs in the public sector in Wales. It found that 56 per cent of public sector organisations were using ZHCs, although we were assured that the Welsh Government itself did not do so. Alas, 18 months later, that claim was disproved as BBC Wales revealed that night cleaners at Cathays Park were on ZHCs. This followed close on from a row over Monmouthshire County Council employing 320 people on ZHCs.

There is also the issue of companies that successfully tender for contracts with councils. Often, councils in Wales have policies whereby they don’t give out contracts to companies that use ZHCs, but often, this only applies to principal contractors. These principal contractors will routinely use subcontractors who, in many cases, do use ZHCs. So, this also needs to be examined. If the Welsh Government is going to defend trade union rights, as they are currently proposing, then perhaps they can also look again at the other side of the coin, which is workers unwillingly working in Wales, in the public sector, on zero-hours contracts. Thank you.