WORKERS have been forced to go to food banks and payday lenders because of employers abusing zero hours contracts, according to Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS).
Some workers have faced bankruptcy and prosecution over unpaid debts accrued because their employers have not given them enough work to pay their bills, a CAS report entitled Working On The Edge has found.
Zero hours contracts are designed to allow flexibility for employers and employees in certain circumstances, such as casual or seasonal work, but CAS said some employers are using them to avoid providing regular hours and even as a tool to force employees to resign.
Some employers are now using zero hours contracts as the norm for the bulk of their staff, CAS said.
CAS policy manager Keith Dryburgh said: “Zero hours contracts (ZHCs) are meant to provide flexibility for employers and workers alike. They are not suitable for everyone, but they can be a useful option for some people - as long as the system is applied fairly.
“However, we see growing evidence that the system is in fact being abused by some employers, who are frankly misusing it to exploit their workers.
“It seems that the flexibility in the system often lies with the employer, not with the worker. And too often workers are left with no hours, no pay, no security and no chance.
“There are 1.4 million people on ZHCs across the UK. They tend to be aged under 25 or over 65. Over half of them are women, and the areas they work in are those like catering, tourism, food and care.
“In highlighting these cases we hope to persuade employers that they should do right by their staff, and also to open a dialogue with government about how to improve the system to make sure this kind of exploitation doesn’t occur. We make a number of recommendations in the report, and we want to engage with ministers, unions and others to discuss ways to ensure a fair deal for all workers.
“We also want to get the message to any worker who is on a zero hours contract. You have rights, and we can help you to stand up for them. If you are unhappy with your contract or unsure of your rights, contact your local CAB and we will help you with free confidential advice. Nobody in 2014 should be in a position where they are working but don’t have the security of an actual income.”
One CAS client in the east of Scotland had only three days’ work in a month and was referred to a food bank, while a client in the north has been summoned to appear in the Heritable Court over arrears of nearly £1,000 accrued while waiting for paid work from her employer.
CAS offices in the east of Scotland have also advised a driver about possible bankruptcy after he was given little work in successive weeks, and a waitress who owes money to several payday lenders on top of debts totalling nearly £5,000.