Zero-hours contracts should be rebranded as “flexible-hours contracts”, Iain Duncan Smith, the Conservative work and pensions secretary, has said.
Duncan Smith said the zero-hours description was inaccurate and added to “scare stories” spread by Labour and the media.
He defended the contracts – which do not guarantee any hours of work for an employee – after the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, criticised the “epidemic” of zero-hours working arrangements in the UK since the Conservatives came to power.
Miliband has repeatedly said it is not right that employees get a text message late the night before to tell them whether they have any work in the morning.
He has pledged to ban “exploitative” zero-hours contracts and make sure people are given more secure contracts if they are working for an employer for three months.
But speaking on Sky News, Duncan Smith said:
“I think, with respect, the media and others have got this completely wrong, the flexible-hours contracts I’m talking about which are named ‘zero-hours contracts’, they are taken by people who want that flexibility. The reality is what we’ve had from Labour is a series of scare stories about these.”
Speaking later on the BBC’s World at One, he said he was “genuinely furious” with the Labour party for trying to whip up opposition to zero-hours contracts.
He also refused to outline where the axe would fall in £12bn of planned benefit cuts. Asked whether he would want to cut child benefit by rolling it into universal credit, the new single welfare payment, he said:
“That’s not on the books now. Of course, a future government may well want to look at that.”
Responding to the comments on zero-hours contracts, the shadow business secretary, Chuka Umunna, accused Duncan Smith of “trying to dress up insecurity as flexibility” and suggested he was “living in a parallel universe”.
Labour argues the number of zero-hours contracts has tripled since 2010 but the Office for National Statistics cautions that this may be because of increased awareness about what they are.
In response, the Conservatives claim zero-hours contracts account for just one in 50 jobs and that only 2.3% of workers are on zero-hours contracts.
Duncan Smith and others in the Conservative party, including the prime minister, have argued that many people are happy on zero-hours contracts.
“We know first of all that people who do them are more satisfied with their work-life balance than those who are on fixed-hours contracts, interestingly enough and the average number of hours they work is not, as some people say, tiny numbers, it’s actually 25 hours work a week. So, a tiny proportion of the population is involved in that but overall more people in work, more people have that satisfaction of security, of a good wage packet that brings them and their families hope for the future.”
Esther McVey, the employment minister, has previously tried to rename zero-hours contracts as “enabling-hours contracts”.
Source – The Guardian, 17 Apr 2015