Harry Phibbs

Previously it had been understood that Ed Miliband’s local council Labour-run Doncaster topped the league table for the numbers employed on zero hours contracts. However while Doncaster has 2,759 staff on such contracts the Lancashire Telegraph reports that Labour-run Bury Council has 3,473.

Cllr Trevor Holt, deputy cabinet member for finance and corporate affairs, said:

“Quite rightly the media has highlighted where employers have misused zero-hours contracts to provide employees with less favourable terms and limited employment protection. This is not the case in the council where the rates of pay for the job, entitlement to holiday pay and employment protection rights are all maintained.

“All zero-hours contracts pay an hourly rate of pay that is the equivalent of substantive postholders.”

Cllr Holt added that “contracts were set up to provide supply staff and casual workers when needed, for example to meet seasonal demand and
shortfalls in staffing numbers. Almost two-thirds of the workers — 2,163 people — are employed as supply staff for schools, such as
teachers, exam vigilators, mid-day supervisors, creche workers and admin staff.”

The problem is Cllr Holt is suggesting that Bury Council is operating on a different basis from other zero hours contract employers. The requirements about rates of pay and holidays are statutory. The objection to being on a zero hours contract is that you must be available for work – to a certain extent – even if no work is forthcoming. Cllr Holt does not deny that his council applies that requirement.

I suspect that many of those on zero hours contracts – whether working for Bury Council or for others – would prefer to be working full time, or to have greater stability over their working arrangement or both. Employers often resort to zero hours contracts rather than providing proper jobs as the bureaucratic penalties for taking on regular, full time, employees are so great.

We can debate whether making casual jobs on zero hours contracts harder to offer or regular jobs easier to offer is the answer.

What is a painful spectacle is the Labour Party condemning zero hours contracts in general are exploitative and disgraceful but that when they offered by Labour councils they are a worthy arrangement to be commended for offering flexibility that is of mutual benefit.


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