Rise in Scots working on 'insecure' zero-hours contracts leading to stress and financial difficulties

SNP MP Chris Stephens last year presented a bill to eradicate zero hours contracts and tighten up the definition of a worker in UK employment law. Picture: John Devlin
SNP MP Chris Stephens last year presented a bill to eradicate zero hours contracts and tighten up the definition of a worker in UK employment law. Picture: John Devlin
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The number of Scots on zero-hours contracts has risen by ten per cent since last year, figures show.

Over 70,000 Scottish people are working on insecure zero-hours contracts, which allow employers to hire staff without giving a guarantee of regular working hours and cancel shifts at short notice.

Many charities and unions have spoken out against the nature of these contracts, which often leave employees in a vulnerable place.

Many of the jobs are advertised on recruitment sites and include listings such as catering work, hotel concierges, restaurant waiters, ­drivers, security guards and agency nurses.

According to the Office for National Statistics, 70,000 people in Scotland are on a zero-hours contract, which signifies a ten per cent increase on the previous year's figure of 64,000.

This mean 2.6% of people in employment are on zero-hours contracts.

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The Taylor Review, commissioned by the Westminster Government in 2016 in response to the rise of precarious work, advised that zero-hours contracts should not be banned.

However, in 2018, the UK government recommended to commission a study to assess the extent of unfair or illegal employment practices in Scotland, however none has been made to date, and the Scottish Affairs Committee called on the government to do more to protect the rights of employees and workers in a rapidly evolving work environment.

The Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC), which campaigned to highlight the social and economic impact of zero hours contracts and precarious work, called on the UK government to give workers a ­statutory right to an employment contract, with a minimum of 16 hours work per week.

Following this campaign, SNP MP Chris Stephens presented a bill to eradicate zero hours contracts and tighten up the definition of a worker in UK employment law to mitigate employers’ exploitative use of these contacts.

When presenting the bill, he said: "This bill will drive up living standards and pay in sectors of the economy where the minimum wage is dominant."

He added that zero hours contract jobs were exploitative and often put families in danger of in-work poverty.

One sided flexibility

Citizens Advice Scotland social justice spokesperson Mhoraig Green told the Sunday Post: “Our evidence shows zero-hours contracts are open to abuse by bad employers who take advantage of their one-sided flexibility.

"This can leave workers with little ­certainty about their working pattern or income, which can lead to stress and financial difficulties.

“Zero-hours contracts work for some people but we see too many cases where low or inconsistent hours make it impossible to budget, make plans or earn enough to live on at all.

“We also see cases where shifts are cancelled at the last minute, leaving workers out of pocket having already paid for travel or childcare.

The second section of the bill proposed by Mr Stephens states that an employer shall be required to give zero hours workers at least 7 days’ notice of any request or requirement to undertake a period of employment; and 7 days’ notice of any cancellation of a period of employment already agreed.

The Scottish Government told the Sunday post: “The proportion of people employed on a zero-hours contract in Scotland is marginally lower than the UK as a whole. Through our Fair Work First approach, we will attach Fair Work conditionality to as many grants, funding streams and public contracts as we can by the end of this parliament.

“Fair Work First asks employers to commit to no inappropriate use of zero-hours contracts, investment in skills and training, and action to tackle the gender pay gap. It also promotes trade union recognition and payment of the real Living Wage.”