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December 18, 2013

Why zero hour contracts?

Given the level of cuts being imposed across virtually every area of Scottish Government expenditure, it’s worth noting that there is one area that has escaped virtually unscathed – the Third Sector.  Has there ever been a time when the sector has enjoyed such consistent support from national government? This may explain some of the relatively positive messages coming out of SCVO’s state of the sector survey. However, not so sure that it explains why a third of the sector still feel the need to use zero hour contracts for their staff.


Blog by Jenny Bloomfield, SCVO Policy Officer

In SCVO’s State of the Sector report out today, we find that 30% of organisations who responded to our survey use flexible contracts with low numbers of guaranteed hours.

Is it okay that our sector, which strives to be a force for good – whatever area we work in – uses these contracts?

It damages our reputations and more importantly, it damages our ability to carry out our work.

Many say that these contracts suit employees, but in our survey, more than two in three of these contracts were instigated by employers, not employees.

Perhaps we in the third sector know how to use these contracts fairly, and don’t exploit employees?

I wish I could say that is true, but a report from the Resolution Foundation suggests otherwise. They quoted a Day Services Support worker working for a well-known UK charity:

“After 8 months working as a day services support worker I became seriously ill […]. The day after, and I have no doubt the two are linked, several of the girls and I were brought in and told that the company had to make a few “little tweaks” to our contracts. […] [M]y line-manager told me I either signed the new [zero hours] contract or I could leave the company.”

We all know that sessional or bank work is a practical solution to changes in demand and dealing with staff absences, but as a sector, we mustn’t let exploitation of workers – like that described above – occur.

People absolutely must not be pushed onto zero hours contracts, or be left with the choice of only a zero hours contract or no job. It damages our reputations and more importantly, it damages our ability to carry out our work.

So, what to do? The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development recently released a report with recommendations for employers using contracts with few guaranteed hours.  These include:

•             Only using such contracts where the flexibility inherent in these types of arrangement suits both the organisation and the individual.

•             Considering whether such contracts are appropriate and if there are alternative means of providing flexibility for the organisation, for example, through the use of annualised hours.

•             Providing workers with reasonable compensation if pre-arranged work is cancelled with no notice.

•             Ensuring that there are comparable rates of pay for people doing the same job regardless of differences in their employment status.

None of this is rocket science.  But it is clear that if we are to protect our reputation, our workers and those we support, we must act.  We cannot let ourselves be sucked into poor treatment of our workers.

This is not about more money, but about treating our workers as fairly as we wish those we support to be treated. Workers’ rights are too important to ignore.