The BBC asked all London councils what proportion of council workers were on zero hours contracts. The information was obtained under a Freedom of Information request and appears on the BBC website 31st July 2013. Watch the video here.
It emerged from a BBC news programme that Kingston Council has 37 per cent of its workers on zero hours contracts. This was a greater proportion than any other council in London. In fact only 3 London councils had over 10 per cent of their workers on zero hours contracts. The next highest proportion was 18 per cent, less than half the proportion of zero hours contracts given by Kingston council.
Under a zero hours contract, the worker is committed to the employer and cannot take work from any other employer. The employer phones the worker whenever they are needed. Technically the employee could say no, but how likely is that? Think about it.
Under a zero hours contract the employee does not know how much money he or she will earn in a month so budgeting is very difficult. It is also impossible to get a mortgage and increasingly difficult to find rented accommodation because private landlords (or letting agencies) want to charge fees and check on income. It might be thought that tax-credits – basically the tax-payers providing a subsidy to employers by making up the wage of a low paid employee – might make up shortfalls, but since the employee has no idea what he or she will earn, it is impossible to complete the forms. Zero hours contracts are going to have a profound effect on the pension levels of council workers, on their promotion prospects and on their access to training.
It is often claimed that employees like zero-hours contracts because it gives them flexibility. If it is so attractive to the employees, you might expect all managers to be queuing up for them. The trouble is that it is usually the employer making these claims on behalf of the most disenfranchised and lowest paid workers.
Turning to Kingston Council we have to ask the question why it is so necessary to have so many workers on zero hours contracts? Can they really claim that they have no idea from week to week of the amount of work needed to provide the public services for which we pay one of the highest council taxes in the country? We also have to ask whether this kind of practice is having a deleterious effect on staff morale and therefore the quality of services in Kingston. Thoughts immediately turn to the appalling record of children’s safeguarding services in Kingston council.
Strangely there was no comment on this practice in Edward Davey’s annual report and no question in his politically skewed “survey”. There was no comment on this from the Liberal Democrats in the Beverley by-election. Clearly they prefer to pretend things like this have nothing to do with them.
The Liberal Democrats running Kingston Council need to explain why Kingston has a bigger proportion of council workers on zero hours contracts than any other London council and Edward Davey MP should join the Labour Party in speaking out against this practice.