Liverpool MPs publish voluntary code of conduct for zero-hours contracts

28 June 2013 A report published by three Labour MPs from the Liverpool area includes six-point voluntary code for employers taking on staff on a zero-hour basis.

28 Jun 2013| News

28 June 2013

A report published by three Labour MPs from the Liverpool area includes six-point voluntary code for employers taking on staff on a zero-hour basis.

Employers using zero-hour contract are not obliged to provide work for their staff, but may call them in on short notice. The worker, meanwhile, may face a very unpredictable shift pattern and is only paid for the hours actually worked. A recent report from the Resolution Foundation showed how zero-hour contracts are becoming more popular among UK employers, and how they put workers at a great disadvantage both financially and in terms of job security.

The politicians’ document: Young People & Employment, was authored by Luciana Berger, MP for Liverpool Wavertree; Rt Hon George Howarth, MP for Knowsley; and Alison McGovern, MP for Wirral South. It was launched at a press conference this morning.

“We firmly conclude … that there is a fine line between part-time and temporary work being used responsibly and sensitively and practices which are, frankly, exploitative,” they wrote.

“We have found convincing evidence that some high-profile and other companies are using employment agencies in order to meet uneven demand, as a means of evading their responsibilities – both moral and statutory – normally associated with good employment practice,” the MPs added.

Recommendations from the team included encouragement to workers to join a trade union, which they said “can be a vital protection against exploitation and arbitrary and unfair treatment in all workplaces”. They also urged firms to sign up to a code of practice, such as the one they have drafted, which is reproduced below.

Code of practice

This draft code of practice “aims to provide guidelines for the use of part-time and temporary workers where the circumstances are justified”.

  1. Working hours should be allocated with fair notice.
  2. Employers will undertake to provide appropriate opportunities for equal access to internal training and career development opportunities to enable career progression.
  3. Employers should take into account family commitments, the availability of public transport in relation to working hours and equal treatment in terms of conditions of employment regardless of age, belief disability, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, between part-time and temporary workers and those employed full-time.
  4. Other than in circumstances in which the part-time or temporary worker wishes to maintain their current employment status, employers should commit to trying to find either full-time or, alternatively, permanent part-time opportunities for those who would wish to attain such employment status.
  5. Other than in short-term of emergency situations, employers should directly employ part-time and temporary employees rather than through employment agencies.
  6. Employers should not deliberately break contracts solely in order to prevent part-time or temporary workers acquiring statutory employment rights.

Response from the Institute of Employment Rights

While we commend the team of MPs for reviewing what is a very serious and increasingly problematic issue, we do not believe a voluntary code of practice will go far enough to ensure workers are protected. Unfortunately, although Business Secretary Vince Cable has announced his own review into the subject, we do not expect the outcome of this will be anything much more powerful than the code produced by the authors of this report. It goes against the ideological grain of this government to allow people to have control over their own working lives rather than waiting by the phone for an unreliable employer to call them in. The answer, we suspect, many Tories will give to such a predicament is simply “leave your job”, but those with our feet on the ground know it is never that easy, and it is especially terrifying to lose your livelihood during a time of high unemployment.

The Institute of Employment Rights will be looking deeply into the issue of zero-hours contracts to provide recommendations on the best way to tackle this worrying new trend. Avoiding employment law by treating workers as commodities in this way should never have become admissible in an allegedly progressive country like the UK and we fear the longer such practices are allowed to spread between employers unfettered, the more it will become ‘normalised’ for a new generation of workers and employers, putting the nation at risk of going backwards when it comes to workers’ rights.