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Zero-hours Contracts

Volume 567: debated on Wednesday 11 September 2013

5. What discussions he has had with Ministers of the Scottish Government on the use of zero-hours contracts in Scotland. (900187)

There is no single legal definition of zero-hours contracts and it is not possible to get reliable estimates. The issue was discussed at the Scottish employability forum last week by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth and a range of Scottish stakeholders.

Many employers in Scotland insist that employees on zero-hours contracts be available for work even if work is not guaranteed. The Labour party has pledged to outlaw this practice and the Scottish Affairs Committee, under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South West (Mr Davidson), has initiated an inquiry. When will this Minister and this Government put themselves on the side of working people?

It is important that our work force remain flexible, but it is also important that they are treated fairly. Officials from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills have undertaken work over the summer better to understand how the contract works in practice, with a view to taking action if widespread abuse is found.

In June, the Scottish Trades Union Congress and the Scottish Government published, following an analysis, a report saying that more than 250,000 people in Scotland are underemployed. Many of them are on zero-hours contracts and the overwhelming majority of them do not want to be. What are the Government doing to address this scandal? As an afterthought, perhaps the Minister could tell us how many people in his Department are on zero-hours contracts.

The hon. Gentleman will know that the Scotland Office does not directly employ any members of the Department, as I have already confirmed in response to a parliamentary question about zero-hours contracts. As I have just indicated to the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Gregg McClymont), we take this issue seriously. That is why BIS officials have been reviewing the operation of the contracts, and I very much welcome the Scottish Affairs Committee inquiry, which will perhaps provide greater illumination on the specific situation in Scotland.

Zero-hours contracts are undoubtedly misused and abused by many employers but, equally, I have spoken to many employees for whom the contracts fit their lifestyle well. Does my right hon. Friend agree, therefore, that reform is necessary, not abolition, and that nothing shows this better than the number of Labour councils using these contracts?

I do not know whether my hon. Friend is aware of the statement by Labour’s shadow Business Secretary, the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr Umunna), who said:

“We’re not actually advocating an entire ban…sometimes people quite like to use them.”

I think that that is something with which we can all agree.

If I may, I would like to express my condolences and pay tribute to those who lost their lives in the terrible Super Puma crash that happened while the House was in recess.

Until recently, Kyle McLean from Airdrie worked in a sports store. Like thousands of people across Scotland, his zero-hours contract meant that he could not take on other work and some weeks he earned less than £20. What does the Minister plan to do about the exploitative use of zero-hours contracts?

The hon. Lady is right to highlight the Super Puma crash and pay tribute to those who were involved in it.

The hon. Lady has a blind spot when it comes to understanding what her own Government did. She seems to suggest that zero-hours contracts suddenly materialised recently, but they were in existence under the Labour Government, who took no steps to review or do anything about them. I explained in my previous answer that BIS officials are reviewing the contracts, because while we want the employment market to be flexible we also want it to be fair.

Perhaps if the Minister looked at Labour’s policies he would get some ideas. The truth is that while the Government have sold off workers’ rights and made it easier to fire rather than hire, they have no plan to address the circumstances of people such as Kyle. Will the Minister follow Labour’s lead and outlaw the use of exploitative zero-hours contracts? Will he also confirm that the Secretary of State for Scotland is on a zero-hours contract so that he can do the Tories’ dirty work in Scotland?

There is one person in this Chamber who is on a zero-hours contract: the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown). I will take no lessons from the hon. Lady, because Labour did nothing about zero-hours contracts. I have set out clearly that BIS officials are reviewing the matter, because our policy is to have a flexible work force and fair employment policies.