MORE than 100,000 Scots are trapped on zero hour contracts without fixed hours and stripped of basic workers’ rights.
Many are forced to use foodbanks despite having jobs with some of Britain’s best-known firms.
The contracts mean employers can avoid offering redundancy pay and pensions, with workers often unable to obtain credit references, loans or mortgages.
The NHS, charities and some of the country’s biggest fast food chains and high street stores use the controversial contracts, which allow them to hire staff with no guarantee of work.
On Wednesday, Sports Direct, owned by Newcastle United owner and Rangers shareholder Mike Ashley, will be questioned by MPs over the issue.
The Scottish Trades Union Congress, who are launching a campaign to help exploited zero hour workers, branded the contracts a “national scandal”.
The Office for National Statistics estimate that 60,000 people in Scotland are on zero hour contracts, up from 46,000 the previous year.
But the STUC believe the real figure is more than 100,000.
STUC general secretary Grahame Smith said: “Zero hour contracts enable employers to dictate the number of hours a worker must undertake – anything from zero to over 40.
“Employees are completely unable to estimate how many hours will be available in a given week, how much money they will receive and whether they can undertake a second job to supplement their income.
“The working tax credit for a single person can only be claimed if an individual works 16 hours a week but whether an individual exceeds these hours can vary from week to week, often leading to delayed payments and increased uncertainty and pressure on household incomes.” Half of all zero hour workers earn less than £15,000 a year.
The Trussell Trust, who run a network of foodbanks across Scotland, said zero hour contracts were forcing workers to seek their help.
Ewan Gurr, the trust’s manager in Scotland, said: “The No1 one driving factor for people presenting at food banks is low income.
“Underlying causes include the rising costs of food and fuel, minimal employment opportunities for those seeking work and insecure employment for those in work.
“We are coming across an increasing number of people in our foodbanks who describe the pressure zero hour contracts and static incomes have put on them and their families.”
Last month the Institute of Directors described zero hour contracts as an “extremely attractive proposition” for employers and workers. The CBI claimed they help keep unemployment in the UK lower than in other countries.
But Citizens Advice Scotland said: “We regularly see clients on zero hour contracts whose hours vary considerably week to week, leaving it impossible for them to budget and building up debt as a result.
“We’ve even seen people having to go to a foodbank because they’ve been given no shifts for weeks.
“It’s very difficult for workers on zero hour contracts to enforce their rights at work.
“Bureau staff have advised people who have been stopped from taking any holiday, or aren’t given sick pay so are unable to go into hospital for a necessary operation.
“If they try to complain about how they’re treated, it’s far too easy for their employer simply to stop giving them any work – basically dismissing them without any process being followed.”
According to research, 44 per cent of zero hour contract jobs last two years or more with the same employer and 25 per cent last five years or more. Unite Scottish Secretary Pat Rafferty said: “Zero hour contracts are a disgraceful employment practice that leave workers in limbo.
“People don’t know if they have a job or income from one day to the next and that’s no way to live.
“The ranks of the working poor in Scotland and across the rest of the UK are swelling and zero hour contracts are a part of the problem.
“Their practice should be banned as part of a wider improvement of employment rights so that work does indeed pay and we can start to properly tackle the glaring income inequality gap.”
Labour leader Ed Miliband has promised to change the law on zero hour contracts if his party win the General Election in May.
Ian Mearns, MP for Gateshead, last year tried to introduce a private member’s bill proposing that zero hour workers have similar rights and conditions to those offered to regular workers.
He told the Sunday Mail: “Not surprisingly it didn’t get support from the Government.
“But I have had discussions with the Labour leadership, who have assured me that they will put forward legislation in the next parliament if they form a government in May.
“I am opposed to the exploitation of zero hour contracts and want to see workers given a guaranteed minimum number of hours.”
Zero hour contracts emerged during the recession of the early 1990s. Since 2000, they have risen across the UK from 225,000 in 2000 to 697,000 in December last year.
Business Secretary Vince Cable has defended the contracts but said exclusivity clauses, which prevent people from looking for extra work elsewhere, would be banned.
The STUC are launching a new campaign to support those suffering from zero hour contracts, low pay and other poor employment conditions.
The Fashion Chain
When Marion Sweetland, 20, signed a contract to work for fashion giants Next, she thought regular hours would help her save up to go to university.
Instead, she found herself having to check nightly to find out what hours – if any – she would be working the next day.
That made it impossible to arrange medical appointments, holidays or plan a social life.
She said: “I took a job on a zero hour contract with Next when I was in my last year at school as I wanted to try to save up towards university.
“The company said I would have a certain number of hours per week and gave me a start date. I thought I was signing up for regular hours but, as soon as I started, I realised I had to check online every night beforehand to see what my hours might be for the very next day.
“I would check when I came home from school but often it wasn’t listed until 9pm or 10pm. I never had the same hours in different weeks.
“I also experienced problems with being put on rota when I had specifically requested not to be – for example, when I informed the company in advance that I had a dental appointment.
“I was told I would be listed as a ‘no show’ if I didn’t get cover or turn up myself.”
Marion worked for Next in 2012 in stock control at a branch in her home city of Edinburgh. She is now a third year law student at Aberdeen University.
She said: “I didn’t stay with the company for very long, perhaps three or four months.
“It was almost impossible to plan for anything, financially or to do with your life.
“It was hard enough for someone like me but for people with children, or even for full-time students, it made things very difficult.
“It was very odd having to check late in the evening to see what you may, or may not, be working the next day.”
We asked Next for a response but they declined to comment.
Stuart Douglas worked in a hotel for eight years but was fired every 12 weeks then rehired – because it got around employees’ rights legislation.
Stuart, 28, worked at the NHS-run Beardmore Hotel next to the Jubilee Hospital in his hometown of Clydebank. He said: “The hospital is used to treat patients from all over Scotland and a hotel was built so relatives could have somewhere to stay.
“The NHS took on the hotel when it acquired the hospital from its former private owners. I worked as a food and beverage host and would work for 12 weeks at a time, then get no shifts in the 13th week and be back on the rota the week after that.
“I got no pay for the week off. There was also no fixed amount of hours in my contract – and you’d only find out on the Friday or Saturday what you’d be working the following week.
“So you had little more than 24 hours’ notice for the next week’s work.
“The result was people just felt they were being taken advantage of. You work hard but are left with a feeling of insecurity and vulnerability.
“You have no financial security to plan ahead. I felt I had the ability to exist but not to live properly or plan ahead.
“The likes of getting a car or mortgage was out of the question – and you would be very apprehensive about phoning in sick.
“The hotel is its own entity but it operates under the umbrella of the NHS. It’s just not acceptable that a public body behaves in such a way towards workers.”
Stuart left last year and moved to Aberdeen. He now works as a technical officer with NHS Grampian.
He was part of a successful campaign which saw the introduction of the living wage at the hotel. He said: “The living wage helps give people a lift financially. Zero hour contracts are brought in to take advantage of the lowest paid workers. You’re left feeling vulnerable and exploited.”
The Golden Jubilee National Hospital said: “While the majority of our staff who work at the Beardmore Hotel are on permanent NHS contracts, some are on temporary contracts.
“We did, in the past, use casual workers. But we took the decision to discontinue this practice, deciding it was our responsibility to ensure everyone who works for us is treated fairly, equally and whose pay exceeded the minimum wage.”
The Pizza Shop
My contract at Pizza Hut is zero hours and always has been.
It’s described as “business needs”. What the business needs, we work.
If I am on shift and they think it’s not busy enough for the number of staff they have in, they can send you home.
If you are off and it gets busy they can phone you and ask you to come in.
If you are on shift, having cancelled other plans, and are told you have to go home, it can be infuriating. There was one occasion I wanted time off to go on holiday for a couple of days.
I was told it wasn’t possible – then when I came in for my shift I was told I wasn’t needed and was sent home.
You just feel a basic lack of respect. And if there is no respect, staff are less willing to help back.
There is also pressure on us to upsell – to sell extras – and we would be told if you could upsell a certain number of garlic breads, they’d have more to spend on staff the next week so they could add half an hour on to your hours.
Strictly speaking, you can refuse to go home if you are called in. But if you did, your prospects might not be great.
On occasions, I’ve had just a couple of hours of work per week. I found my wages weren’t even covering the cost of getting to and from work.
It’s all about making the company look good on paper at the expense of workers and their lives. It’s just about numbers.
There’s no respect for staff – and I think that’s really sad. People have bills or mortgages or car payments.
To send them home at a minute’s notice – when people thought they were going to have that money for the week – is just not fair.
Pizza Hut said: “We do not use zero hour contracts in our restaurants business nor in company-owned delivery units and we do not encourage them with our franchisees in our delivery business.
“However our delivery franchisees, as small business owners, ultimately decide working hours and contracts and some may independently use them where there is a need for flexible working.”
This article initially appeared in the Daily Record.