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Zero-hours Contracts

Volume 583: debated on Thursday 26 June 2014

2. What assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of the Office for National Statistics report on zero-hours contracts, published on 30 April 2014. (904469)

The ONS report was a helpful addition to the debate on zero-hours contracts, alongside the Department’s call for evidence and final consultation. Our policy is that although zero-hours contracts benefit many employers and employees, there is a need to address abuse.

The ONS study showed that 1.4 million workers were on zero-hours contracts. Those workers are unable to access rented property, because they cannot prove a work record, or mobile phone contracts and hire purchase contracts. What work has the Department undertaken also to identify the status of the 1.3 million people whose jobs were not examined as part of the ONS study? Do we not need to find out more about the people on zero-hours contracts rather than staying where we are?

I thank the hon. Lady for her close interest in this matter and for trying to build up the evidence base. There is some confusion here, because the 1.4 million figure relates to the number of contracts, and individual workers may have several contracts; the best number we have from the ONS for the number of workers involved is 583,000, which represents about 2% of the total labour force.

Does the Secretary of State agree that in today’s modern workplace many employees find zero-hours contracts very attractive because of the freedom they give them to combine different jobs, to work from home and be available to work, or to work and study at the same time?

My hon. Friend rightly says that certain groups of workers find these contracts advantageous, the main ones being workers who have passed retirement age and wish to do optional, flexible work, and students, for whom the lack of an obligation to turn up at a fixed time for a fixed period is compatible with their studies.

Will the Secretary of State clear up the confusion he created during the last debate on this issue in the Chamber and confirm that workers on jobseeker’s allowance who turn down a zero-hours contract job will not face sanctions?

Employers are trying to steer a course between being flexible and skirting around their legal obligations, but there is concern about the zero-hours contracts for care workers, on whom we are becoming increasingly dependent. Will the Secretary of State’s Department take a careful look at that industry with a view to giving it further guidance if required?

Yes, indeed. We are already doing that, and I am discussing the matter with the Minister with responsibility for care. The problem with domiciliary care is that there is almost certainly an avoidance by companies to pay the minimum wage, and that overlaps with the problem of zero-hours contracts. We recognise that there are some very specific problems for workers in that sector.