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Research into zero-hour contracts in Norwich prompts action to improve workers' rights

PUBLISHED: 22:07 13 February 2019 | UPDATED: 22:07 13 February 2019

Research commissioned by Norwich City Council looked at how zero-hour contracts affected both employers and workers in Norwich. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Research commissioned by Norwich City Council looked at how zero-hour contracts affected both employers and workers in Norwich. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

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Action over controversial zero-hour contracts is to be taken by city councillors in a bid to encourage businesses in Norwich to promote improved terms of employment.

Norwich City Council leader and chairman of the cabinet Alan Waters. Picture: Ian BurtNorwich City Council leader and chairman of the cabinet Alan Waters. Picture: Ian Burt

Research commissioned by Norwich City Council looked at how zero-hour contracts affected both employers and workers in Norwich with a view to using the findings to promote good employment practices across the city.

Around 54 interviews were conducted as part of the research with employers in different sectors, individuals and working families.

Although zero-hour contracts were not found to be a problem in themselves, the main issue lied with the way in which workers were treated by employers in terms of sick pay, holiday pay and uncertainty over the laws governing zero-hour contracts.

The report continued: “The research has shown that zero-hour contracts are open to abuse and measures need to be set in place to ensure that workers’ rights are not compromised.”

At a meeting on Wednesday evening, Norwich City Council’s cabinet members agreed to find practical steps to get businesses in Norwich to implement better employment practices.

The city council was asked to lobby to central government for better working practices by writing to business secretary Greg Clark to ban exploitative zero-hour contracts and penalise employers who do not meet their responsibilities.

Cabinet chairman and leader of the council Alan Waters said the impact of zero-hours contracts was largely invisible and that the findings of the report “would shock people”.

He added: “Whatever work you do you should be respected and supported by your employer.”

The research found that employers in the health and social care, hospitality and leisure, retail and education sectors, generally favoured zero-hour contracts due to the flexibility they afforded, but that these employers, dubbed ‘strand A’ in the report, are low waged and relied on zero-hour contracts to keep costs down.

It also showed that employers, labelled ‘strand B’, such as manufacturing, construction and finance struggled to fill vacancies “either because there are skills shortages relating to the industry or position or because the hours can be quite unsociable”.

More strand B employers provided the government’s living wage to staff, of around £8.21 an hour for workers aged over 25, than strand A employers but that the financial impact of this has meant some employers have “passed part of this to their customers through price increases”.

The research also found that workers tended to use zero-hour contracts as a short-term solution to fit within wider circumstances, and that they suited younger and older workers particularly students and those over retirement age.

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