We must end the exploitative use of ‘zero hours’ contracts


Over recent years I’ve spoken to many local people in Northfield who are struggling to find work, and many more who are struggling on low pay or feeling increasing insecure and in their jobs. Nothing is more symbolic of this in-work vulnerability than the rise of “zero-hours” contracts.It’s easy to see why zero-hours contracts appeal to some employers. They offer the maximum flexibility possible for businesses that face changing levels of demand. They provide a pool of ‘on-call’ workers who have to be able to work when required, but that are not guaranteed any hours or time of work. Of course, this can suit some industries and people.  But ‘flexibility’ is coming at a high cost for millions of employees.

People working zero-hours contracts in Northfield are telling me that they are struggling to spend time with their families so they can be available whenever their employer needs them, even if there is no work. Others are forced to work exclusively for one employer – but with no guarantee that they will get enough hours to pay the bills. I’ve also met people on zero hours contracts who are actually working regular, scheduled hours – but not receiving their full employment rights in areas like unfair dismissal, redundancy or maternity.

There has been a sharp rise in the number of people employed on zero-hours contracts under the Conservative-led Government. The increasing insecurity, instability and stress for hard working people is why Labour has pledged to end the exploitive use of these contracts.

A Labour Government would ban employers from insisting that ‘zero-hour’ 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 use of these contracts for employees who are really working regular hours over a long period of time.

I understand that the staffing needs of businesses change, requiring them to be flexible. But people can’t be flexible about whether they can afford the monthly rent or the weekly shop. Everyone has the right to feel confident and secure at work. Labour would act to help hard working people struggling from the exploitive use of zero-hours contracts today.

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Richard Burden

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I was Labour Member of Parliament for Birmingham Northfield between 1992 and 2019 and a former Shadow Transport Minister. I now chair Healthwatch in Birmingham and Solihull, and the West Midlands Board of Remembering Srebrenica. I also work as a public affairs consultant. I am an effective community advocate and stakeholder alliance builder with a passion for human rights. I am a trustee of the Balfour Project charity and of Citizens Advice Birmingham, and a former Chair of Medical Aid for Palestinians.

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You can reach me by email at richard@richardburden.com or use the form on the Contact page to send me a message.