Tackling the disgrace of 78,000 on zero hours contracts

Kate Ramsden
Kate Ramsden

#stuc2017 A couple of hours after Jeremy Corbyn pledged to the STUC that he would abolish zero hours contracts, delegates heard how unions were organising to win employment rights for thousands of people in ‘precarious’ work.

Unite organiser Bryan Simpson’s rousing account of how he was organising with ‘Better than Zero’ got a great response as he outlined how they had won rights for staff by direct action.

And the motion laid out a seven point strategy to improve legal entitlements, more union recognition, and stronger union organisation. It also called for a report on powers local authorities could use to ensure fair and safe working practices and an examination of how a ‘tourist tax’ might be used to boost conditions for employees.

UNISON Scotland’s Kate Ramsden weighed in with an analysis of the reason behind the drive to cut workers’ rights and security.

She said: “Back in 2010 I was at a UNISON workshop where we were being warned about the Tory austerity agenda and the fact that the cuts made no sense and would be bad for the economy, bad for the workforce, bad for people who rely on public services and would not cut the deficit.

“All of which came to pass as we now know.

“So what’s in it for the Tory government then? I asked. They want a low wage economy, I was told.

“And now that too has come to pass with the rise of insecure work, poor employment rights, zero hours contracts, poorly unionised workplaces and low and insecure pay.

“We see it all across the workforce with employers exploiting their workers at every turn. Hospitality, shop work, delivery driving, social care.

“These workers have become the working poor. Many of them are women and many are parents, forced into this kind of work because of a draconian benefits system. Their children are then condemned to grow up in poverty in the 6th richest country in Europe.”

“Very bad for the workers but also very bad for the economy, because workers who don’t earn very much don’t pay much in the way of taxes.

“The only people who benefit are the people who take the profits – earned on the back of slave labour.”

Kate spoke of the crisis in the low paid social care sector that had implications not just for the staff but for the quality of care.

“That’s why UNISON has been doing our best to sign councils up to our Ethical Care Charter – with some success I might add.”

The motion pointed out that the number of people in Scotland on zero hours contracts had gone up to 78,000 and she called for the Fair Work Framework to tackle the issue.

“The FWC has it in its sights though and has pledged to tackle insecure work and low pay in Scotland. This composite and the FWC rightly highlights the crucial role of trade unions in achieving this aim. Only the unions can pull people together and give them a strong voice to challenge this.”

She said: “This is an opportunity for the Scottish Government, employers and the unions to step up to the mark and to make the principles of the Fair Work Framework a reality for all Scottish workers. It would also go a long way to taking the children of the working poor out of poverty.

“So let’s see everyone put their money where their mouth is.”

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