Michael Dugher MP

Working hard for Barnsley East

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Blog: "Zero-hours contracts - a race to the bottom"

This week I voted for a motion in the House of Commons that called on the Government to initiate a full consultation and formal call for evidence on the use of zero-hours contracts and on proposals to prevent abuses. Unfortunately the Government defeated the motion by 54 votes.

A recent survey of employers by YouGov found that there could be as many as one million people on zero-hours contracts. It also found that almost one in five employers say that they employ at least one person on zero-hours contracts. Worryingly, these figures show that zero-hours contracts are much more widespread than initially thought.

Zero-hours contracts mean insecurity and stress for too many families in Barnsley and across the country. Those on them are not contracted to work a set number of hours and they are only paid for the number of hours that they actually work. There is no doubt that many of those who are employed on zero-hours contracts struggle.

Many people have found that they have had to sacrifice time with their kids in order to be available whenever their employer requires them to be, even if there is no work. Others are required to work exclusively for one employer with no guarantee that they will get enough hours to pay the bills. Some are employed on zero-hours contracts even though in practice they work regular hours.

This can’t continue.  That's why Ed Miliband has set out plans to outlaw the exploitive use of zero-hours contracts.

A Labour Government would ban employers from insisting zero-hours workers be available even when there is no guarantee of any work, stop zero-hours contracts that require workers to work exclusively for one business, and end the misuse of zero-hours contracts where employees are in practice working regular hours over a sustained period.

Both employers and employees need flexibility and zero-hours contracts can be useful for certain professionals such as doctors or supply teachers. But flexibility shouldn't be an excuse for the exploitation of hard-working people. I’m in favour of flexibility but I’m not in favour of people in Barnsley having to be flexible about whether they can afford the weekly shop.

David Cameron boasts that he’s fixed Britain’s economy but his economic recovery is benefitting just a privileged few at the top and not the vast majority of hard-working people.

The debate about the use of zero-hours contracts comes as people are feeling the squeeze thanks to the cost of living crisis happening under this Tory-led Government. Prices have now risen faster than wages for 39 out of the 40 months that David Cameron has been Prime Minister. Working people are now on average more than £1,500 a year worse off under this out-of-touch Government.

We need to build an economy that works for working people. A recovery that only benefits a few at the top is not only unfair but it's also unsustainable.

Hard-working people should feel confident and secure at work - ending the exploitive use of zero-hours contracts is an integral part of achieving this.

David Cameron likes to talk about Britain being in a “global race”. But with zero-hours contracts being used to exploit so many in this country, it’s just the latest example of how under Cameron it is a race to the bottom.

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