RBS slated for zero-hours contract support

Bank gives firms advice on controversial agreements. Picture: Getty
Bank gives firms advice on controversial agreements. Picture: Getty
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THE Royal Bank of Scotland has been criticised for assisting firms in drawing-up controversial zero-hour contracts for workers.

Scottish politicians last night called on RBS, which is 81 per cent taxpayer-owned, to stop issuing advice to firms employing workers on zero-hour contracts – under which employees often do not know if they have work from one week to the next.

Officials at the bank yesterday admitted it offered advice to firms using the controversial employment practice, which has been widely condemned by unions and politicians.

Companies are offered help with zero-hour contracts via the RBS mentor service, which gives employment and HR advice to 11,000 businesses across the UK. Hundreds of those are understood to use zero-hour contracts which let them hire staff with no obligation to guarantee a minimum number of hours.

The UK government yesterday faced calls to use its influence over RBS to prevent the bank from providing any further assistance to firms.

Business Secretary Vince Cable has already launched a consultation on zero-hours contracts amid fears some firms are abusing them, with more than half-a-million people in the UK signed up to them last year.

Labour MSP Neil Findlay called on UK ministers to intervene. He said: “RBS needs brought to heel. It is a nationalised bank owned by the taxpayer yet it is actively promoting job insecurity through zero-hours contracts. It appears enior executives at RBS can award themselves million-pound bonuses whilst advising businesses to build in job insecurity for their staff.

“RBS senior managers should not be providing such advice.”

One contract drawn up by RBS was reported to state an hourly rate of pay, but no annual salary. It also reportedly gives the company the right to instigate a “period of temporary layoff without pay … where there is a shortage of work”.

SNP MSP John Wilson said: “Given that RBS relied heavily on a taxpayer bail-out during the financial crisis and its executives are still in receipt of exorbitant bonuses, the bank should seriously consider the type of advice it is giving to employers that in some cases are eroding employment rights.”

However, RBS said it only assisted firms with zero-hour contracts in “a small number of cases” – which the bank suggested is less than 5 per cent of its 11,000 mentor service clients.

A spokeswoman said: “In a small number of cases, some customers ask for help in drawing up a zero-hours contract for their business. RBS mentor will not draw up a zero-hours contract where the business has an established work pattern or contract with its employees, and will only help where there is a clearly defined business need.

“The zero-hour contracts RBS mentor help draw up do not include an exclusion clause which prevents the employee from working for another organisation. These types of contracts may suit certain types of employers whose businesses experience variations in demand.”

But Unite National Officer Rob MacGregor said: “RBS is backed by the state and was bailed out by the taxpayer. It should not be advocating employment contracts which attack workers’ rights.”

The UK government declined to comment on the row.