Zero-hours contracts for 27,000 Scots public staff

MSPs were told of the figure at Holyrood today. Picture: Neil Hanna
MSPs were told of the figure at Holyrood today. Picture: Neil Hanna
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AT least 27,000 people working in the devolved public sector are on zero-hours contracts, MSPs have been told.

Labour MSP Ken Macintosh revealed the figure, discovered through freedom of information (FOI) requests, during First Minister’s Questions at Holyrood.

Of the total, at least 8,000 are working in the higher education sector and 1,000 are in further education.

Mr Macintosh’s comments come in the wake of a report from the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) earlier this week, which said it uncovered widespread use of zero-hours contracts by universities.

All higher education institutions use the contracts which tie employees to an institution but without a guarantee of regular paid work, according to the EIS.

Mr Macintosh, the Eastwood MSP, called on the Scottish Government to show leadership on the issue.

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who was standing in at Holyrood for First Minister Alex Salmond during his trip to China, said she condemns the inappropriate use of zero-hours contracts and called for politicians on all sides to work together to tackle the issue.

Addressing Ms Sturgeon, Mr Macintosh said: “Can I ask when her Government will show the sort of leadership on this issue that Scotland expects? Her ministers and her Government already continue to defend the use and the awarding of government grants to multinational companies that use zero-hours contracts.

“We now know that at least 8,000 people are working on these contracts in higher education, a further 1,000 in further education.

“I’ve discovered through FOIs that at least 27,000 people are working in the devolved public sector. That’s the area for which this Government has entire responsibility: 27,000 people working on zero-hours contracts.

“When will the Deputy First Minister show the sort of leadership we demand and end this invidious employment practice?”

Ms Sturgeon said she, the First Minister and other government ministers “deprecate and condemn the inappropriate use of zero-hours contracts”.

She earlier told the chamber the EIS survey makes for “worrying reading” and said she is pleased to see that Edinburgh University has reached an agreement with the University and Colleges Union to review its use of zero-hours contracts.

“Employment law of course is currently reserved to Westminster, but under the Procurement Reform Bill we’ll see statutory guidance to encourage good employment practices by allowing a company’s approach to workforce-related matters to be considered when assessing their suitability to bid for public sector contracts,” she said.

Responding directly to Mr Macintosh’s question, the Deputy First Minister called for MSPs to work together on the issue.

“If Ken Macintosh or any other member has evidence they want to share with us, I would be very happy to see that and would welcome receipt of that,” she told the chamber.

“We all agree zero-hours contracts and their inappropriate use are unacceptable, so let’s agree to work together to try to do something real about it.”

The FOI requests lodged by Mr Macintosh questioned a range of public bodies in Scotland, including the health service and councils, on their use of zero-hours contracts in 2012-13.

It is understood the exact number of people on such contracts was found to be 27,043 but more than a dozen bodies did not provide figures, meaning the actual total could be higher.