Tagged: zero hour contracts

Charity report reveals owning your own home in County Durham is “becoming a nightmare”

The dream of owning your own property in County Durham is becoming a nightmare for many low-income families, according to new research.

Investigations by Citizens Advice County Durham published in a new national report, revealed that people are spiralling into debt as they struggle to retain and maintain their homes due to a combination of health issues, unemployment, zero-hour contracts, stagnating house prices, and costly repairs.

In the report, Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Housing Crisis, the charity calls for the myth that owner-occupation is best for all to be debunked and says the UK needs a housing debate which looks beyond getting people onto the property ladder and involves everyone from local councils to builders, MPs and landlords.

The charity say that while for many people buying their own home is a positive decision, for thousands of people in County Durham the ‘nest egg’ is becoming a millstone around their necks.

Full story : http://northstar.boards.net/thread/145/durham-owning-own-home-nightmare

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Fast food outlets treating workers like slaves, claim campaigners

Fast food outlets are treating employees like slaves, according to campaigners.

A global day of action saw people across the world take to the streets to highlight the plight of workers in the fast food industry, many of whom are on zero hour contracts.

Campaigners in the UK were largely organised by the Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU) who are calling for a £10 hourly minimum wage and the scrapping of zero hour contracts for those working at outlets like McDonalds, Burger King and KFC.

In Darlington, protestors from BFAWU and Darlington Against Cuts manned a stall close to McDonalds on Northgate and encouraged passersby to take up the fight against “slave labour”.

BFAWU representative Alan Milne said: “Zero hour contracts are going back to the dark ages.

“Fast food workers can go to work and be sent home with no pay despite paying expenses to get there or arranging child care.

“It’s fundamentally wrong and harks back to the shipyard days when people would stand outside waiting for work – it’s disgusting and needs to change.”

A former zero hours worker said:

“I worked in Darlington on a zero hour contract and had my work cut from 40 hours a week to 18.

 “That’s still above benefit levels so I couldn’t claim those and it’s absolutely disgusting, they’re treating people like slaves.

“It’s slave labour – what’s next, work camps?”

Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) representative Alan Docherty called on workers to fight back.

He said:

“People are locked in these contracts as they rely on the money but they’re scared to speak out as if you upset your boss, you won’t get the hours.

“The only way to combat this is to get organised and fight back.”

Source – Northern Echo, 16 Apr 2015

Hartlepool council aims to get rid of zero-hours contracts

Hartlepool Borough Council says it does not support zero-hour contracts in principle – and is encouraging its contractors to take the same stance.

The council has considered six key principles, proposed by Putting Hartlepool First, around improving terms for workers on the contracts.

Councillors for the party said they are incompatible with building a loyal, skilled and productive workforce, and make it hard for workers to plan their budgets,

A wider review of the council’s use of the contracts is also ongoing, and is due to be completed by October.

There are currently 22 Hartlepool council workers employed on zero-hour contracts but that number is expected to fall.

But it says they may sometimes be the best way of meeting the authority’s needs.

The council’s stance is to be included in its pay policy, and will state:

“The council does not generally support the use of zero-hours contracts.

“However, there may be circumstances where the use of zero-hour contracts is the most effective and efficient way of meeting the council’s needs, and the assistant chief executive (or nominees) will determine when this applies.

“Where employees are employed on a zero-hours contract they are employed on a fixed or permanent basis, are entitled to request a review of their contracted hours at any time after six months in post and are not prevented from working for other employees.”

Contractors employed by the council will be required to pay workers the National Minimum Wage and also encouraged to pay the council’s Living Wage.

With regard to the use of zero-hours contracts, the council policy states contractors will avoid using them.

A report said some council employees work relatively small hours a year either with or without zero hour contracts.

It stated:

“This type of working pattern would enable employees to be offered a fixed term or permanent contracts ultimately further reducing the number of zero-hour contracts across the council.”

The council will also write to its contractors highlighting its policy. But the council added zero-hour contracts may be the best option where regular hours cannot be guaranteed such as for teachers of courses that only run if there are enough people.

Source – Hartlepool Mail, 14 Apr 2015

Why can’t Britain create decent jobs? Meet the women struggling against low pay and zero-hours contracts

The lovely wibbly wobbly old lady

Reposted from the Guardian

Cecily Blyther
Cecily Blyther, a learning support officer, has been on a zero-hours contract for six years. Photograph: Mark Passmore for the Observer/AP

Sarah, 44, married with a son aged four, has a degree in modern languages, two master’s degrees, a PGCE teaching qualification and a PhD. She has 20 years’ experience in teaching. Each year, for the past four and a half years, her contracts as a lecturer at two universities have been renewed only days before the start of the academic year, meaning she has continual breaks in employment.

She is entitled after four years to request a permanent contract that brings with it improved employment rights, security and a chance to improve her pension. Illegally, her requests have been ignored. Instead Sarah’s wages have stuck at about £23,000, £4,000 below the average UK salary at a time when the cost of living has risen…

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Figures reveal 28,000 of people in the North East on zero hour contracts for their main job

A total of 28,000 North East workers are on zero hour contracts for their main job.

The figure amounts to 2.3%, or one in 43, of the region’s workforce. However campaigners say it could be much higher.

According to the Office for National Statistics, nationally the number stands at 697,000 which represents a 100,000 leap in the past 12 months.

And because workers often have more than one job, the number of employment contracts offering no minimum hours rose from 1.4m to 1.8m in that time.

The ONS said the near 30% UK increase might not be as a result of a surge in zero hours contracts being offered but due more to increasing recognition of the contracts by staff when asked by researchers about their employment terms.

 However the government has been accused of allowing a low-pay culture to grow unchecked by fair pay campaigners, the trade unions and the Labour party.

Neil Foster, policy and campaigns officer for the Northern TUC, said:

“When we’ve been campaigning on quality employment issues we find that a lot of people who are on a zero hour contract aren’t even aware that they are on them.

“Work from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has indicated the number of people with no guaranteed hours could be several times higher than others have traditionally picked up.

“Zero hours contracts are not defined in law and while this might be problematic for the statisticians they prove even more of a headache for the workers employed through this form of work.”

The ONS figures revealed people on “zero-hours contracts” are more likely to be women, in full-time education or working part-time.

More than 34% of people on “zero-hours contracts” are aged 16 to 24, a figure in the North East that looks set to rise.

And 34% of people on them want more hours though, according to the ONS, this could be linked to a higher proportion of “zero-hours contract” jobs being part-time.

Some of Britain’s largest employers offer zero-hours contracts including JD Wetherspoon, Burger King, McDonald’s and Sports Direct owned by Newcastle United’s billionaire boss Mike Ashley.

Even Buckingham Palace has offered the contracts to staff working in the summer when the Queen’s main residence is open to the public.

Mr Foster added:

“Many people on these contracts need and want more hours and greater certainty but instead find themselves at the beck and call of employers and in quite a vulnerable situation.

“Working people need to be able to look forward to the future and a real economic recovery relies on greater confidence – but zero hours contracts simply don’t provide that.”

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 25 Feb 2015

Hartlepool Councillors Call for ban on zero-hours contracts

A group of Hartlepool councillors are calling on the authority to act on zero hours contracts which leave workers open to being exploited.

Hart councillor David Riddle, of the Putting Hartlepool First Party, has submitted a motion to the council for it to lead by example and carry out a review of all staff and contractors who may be employed on the contracts.

Councillor Riddle said:

“The number of people on zero hours contracts has significantly increased in recent years.

“It makes it very difficult for households to plan a budget from month to month or even week to week.

“Families are then faced with impossible choices concerning bills, buying food and just keeping a roof over their heads.”

The union Unite says zero hours contracts are on the rise nationwide having almost doubled in the last five years.

The latest data shows around 1.4 million people are now employed on the contracts, but the union adds the real figure may be up to 2.7 million.

Unite says the contracts mean workers have no guaranteed weekly hours or income, and are only being paid for the hours they do work.

Workers do not get the benefits such as holiday pay, pensions and being free to work for other employers.

Coun Riddle added:

“As a ward councillor, it’s impossible for me to ban zero hour contracts.

“That would be a decision for the Government. However, we in Hartlepool can lead by example and ensure as many people as possible within our town are protected.

“The contracts need to provide more safety and assurance for the employee than is currently the case.”


The motion will be debated by councillors at a Full Council meeting, on Thursday, February 5.

It calls for a review of all Hartlepool council employees, contractors, subcontractors and organisations who have gained council tenders or money who are on zero hours contracts.

The motion also asks the council to implement six key principles within six months.

They include workers not having to be available outside contracted hours, have a right to compensation if shifts are cancelled at short notice and having the right to ask for a minimum amount of work after six months.

Source –  Hartlepool Mail,  30 Jan 2015

Pressure on North East foodbanks could be eased by £22m EU fund, politicians tell PM

North East politicians are calling for government to tap into a £22m EU fund to ease pressure on foodbanks.

David Cameron has been criticised for allegedly failing to take the money over fears it reveals the UK’s dependency on the EU and weakens his position going into a potential in/out referendum in 2017.

However the Conservative Party have said they are not missing out on EU cash and have £2.9m to spend, and they – not Europe – will decide where it goes.

Labour MEPs have now written an open letter to the Prime Minister asking him to lift his block on support for the country’s most vulnerable people for what they consider is solely for ‘ideological reasons’.

The European Aid to the Most Deprived Fund is worth £2.5bn, and is available to all EU member countries to dip into to help people who are most in need. Foodbanks would have been able to apply for funding from the pot. However David Cameron decided to opt out of the scheme in 2013, which Labour members believe could have eventually totalled £22m for the UK between 2014 and 2020.

The Government has previously said it believes individual member states are best positioned to deliver social programmes for the poor through regional or local authorities. They’ve said they will take their Most Deprived Fund subsidy (£2.9m) and deduct it from their ‘structural fund’, the cash pot they would prefer to see money delivered through.

The North East’s two Labour MEPs, Jude Kirton Darling and Paul Brannen have said in their joint letter to David Cameron that he should ‘remove opposition’ to support for foodbanks. The letter has also been signed by leader of Newcastle City Council, Nick Forbes,  and leader of Durham County Council, Simon Henig.

Jude Kirton Darling, MEP, said:

“People are under intense financial pressure at the moment and many people will have used food banks this year. 

“As the weather turns colder and people face increased heating bills we feel now is the time for the Government to remove its opposition to support for food banks.”

Paul Brannen MEP added that as well as accepting more money from the EU, in the medium term he would like to see food bank use decline through an increased minimum wage, less use of zero hour contracts and a youth job guarantee for young people.

A Conservative party spokesperson, said:

“We aren’t losing money – any funding the UK receives from the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived will be taken off our structural fund allocation.

“Instead we will use our structural funds to support local initiatives to train and support disadvantaged people into work. We have not yet decided how the €3.5m euro pot (£2.9m) will be spent – food aid is just one of the options for spending the money.”

> So nothing will happen this side of the General Election. Probably not after it, either.

In 2013, British MEPs alongside two other member states formed a blocking minority which meant the initial European-wide fund was spilt into two, with one fund for ‘material assistance’, which would have seen the UK receiving food and items like sleeping bags directly, and another for ‘immaterial assistance’ which could go towards the budgets of social programmes.

Britain chose to draw down only on the second fund ‘immaterial assistance’, and while it accepted a share of £2.9m – the same as the smallest EU member Malta with a population of just 450,000 – neighbouring country France accepted has taken its full €443m allowance.

The letter to Mr Cameron written by the pair, said:

“We feel now is the time to remove your opposition to support for food banks.

“We understand your opposition to the European Union but the fact is that the money is available and should be used as there is clear and desperate need. It is wrong to block support for the most vulnerable people for ideological reasons.

“You have claimed that support for food banks should be a national decision, yet the decision of your government is to not support food banks at all. We do not believe that is right.”

The Government announced in October that it plans to use some of the UK share of the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived to provide additional support for school breakfast clubs in England. Under the plans, which will be led by the Department for Education, this money would be allocated to schools with particularly high rates of disadvantage, as measured by free-school meal eligibility. This still needs to be agreed by the EU Commission.

Figures from by the Trussell Trust, which runs foodbanks, show that between April and September 2014, over 25,000 people were helped by the charity’s Gateshead, Newcastle East and Newcastle West End food banks alone.

That breaks down to 4,289 a month – more than treble the 1,316 people per month in Newcastle and Gateshead who accessed a foodbank in the nine month period between April 2013 and December 2013.

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 22 Jan 2015

Stockton : Plea to end zero hour contracts becomes an internet hit

A stepfather’s impassioned plea to end the use of zero-hour contracts has become an internet hit after his stepson was forced leave his rented home when he could no longer cover the rent.

Stephen Thompson wrote an open letter to his stepson’s employer, JD Wetherspoon, after the family was forced to buy the kitchen worker a new pair of shoes so he could walk to work without getting his feet wet.

And since he posted the letter on Facebook a few days ago, he has been inundated with similar tales from other people who are struggling under the financial burden of a zero-hour contract.

With more than 12,000 likes and 13,000 shares, the post has attracted the attention of people from across the country.

Mr Thompson, who works at a university as a social entrepreneur-in-residence and community engagement coordinator, says he was shocked at how far reaching the problem was for people trying to find secure work.

“My stepson is in 40s and trained for three years to be able to work in catering,” he said.

“I never realised how common the problem was with zero hour contracts, people who just want to work take these jobs but their futures are never secure.

> And this is a large part of the problem – so many people who ought to realise what is going on in this country seem oblivious to it. Mainstream media barely reports it, of course, but even so … and you might at least expect someone who works as a community engagement coordinator to know what’s going on in that community.

Still, he does now, and has done something positive about it.

“When I wrote the open letter, I never expected the response that I have received. I have read some real horror stories in the last few days.

 “The use of these Draconian contracts is having a devastating effect on the lives of people who just want to work for a living.”

In his letter, he writes:

“He is “employed” on a zero-hours basis and earns barely enough to feed himself. He got into trouble with his rent and was evicted from his home. I blame the basis of his employment for this.

“He now lives two miles away from your bar and is obliged to walk this distance to and from work as he does not earn enough to afford public transport. Yesterday my wife was obliged to buy him new shoes as he had worn holes in his existing ones. I think it is appalling that you do not provide your kitchen staff with appropriate footwear.”

And he has contacted his local MP Alex Cunningham to garner his support for the abolition of zero-hour contracts.

 The Stockton North MP said:
“People are suffering, these contracts effect they way people are able to live. Some are struggling to pay their mortgage or rent and some are even struggling to put food on their tables.

“I believe it is time to end the widespread use of zero-hour contracts.”

A Wetherspoon spokesman said:

“Wetherspoon does operate flexible contracts for its hourly paid staff.

“The company operates in a seasonal sector and offer flexible hours to meet demand. Pub managers try to give staff the hours they want.

“Rotas are produced by the manager and published to employees at least two weeks in advance.

“Wetherspoon probably offers more hours per week than any other pub company.”

To read the letter visit facebook.com/Stmedia/posts/10152912900027184

Source –  Northern Echo,  03 Jan 2015

North East unemployment figures down but the region still has the highest rate in the country

The North East has retained its position as the worst region for jobs in the latest batch unemployment figures – despite showing a reduction in the numbers of those seeking work.

Statistics released on Wednesday revealed a regional unemployment rate of 9.1% with 118,000 people looking for work in the region.

The figures are for the three months ending in October and show a fall of 1% compared to the same period last year.

It follows previous figures which showed a rise for three successive quarters.

The figures show unemployment down across the country but the North East is still top of the table.

However, bosses at organisations welcomed the improvement in figures.

Neil Carberry, director for employment and skill at the Confederation of British Industry, said:

“As we come to the end of the year, it’s good news that unemployment continues to fall, as jobs are being created. It’s good to see even more people working full-time.

“We are starting to see the first signs of real pay growth picking up, which will have given households an encouraging boost in the run up to Christmas.”

> Yes, but since “full-time” work  equals 16 hours a week, there are a lot of jobs that no-one can afford to take if they have no other source of income.

Unions accepted the rate in the region was down but said zero hour contracts disguised the impact.

Ruth Berkley, of Unison’s North East office, said:

“While our unemployment figure in the region has come down to 9.1%, it is disappointing that we continue to have the highest level of unemployment in the country, including for youth unemployment.

“There has been a significant increase in zero hours contracts in the region, with 52,000 now working on such contracts.

“In the last 12 months we have also seen an increase of 11 per-cent in female unemployment, partly as a result of public sector job losses.

“George Osborne in his Autumn Statement stated that there is yet more to come in terms of public sector jobs being cut.

“Despite what Ian Duncan Smith claims that there are jobs for all those who want full time employment, the reality for this region is that we have the highest level of under-unemployed of any region.”

Unusually, the employment rate is higher among women than among men in the North East – in most places in the UK it is the other way round.

They remain close though – the rate for men is 8.9% while among women the figure is 9.3%

A spokesman for the Office of National Statistics said:

“The unemployment rate for people aged 16 and over for the UK was 6 per-cent for the period August to October 2014.

“The region with the highest rate in Great Britain was the North East at 9.1 per-cent followed by Wales and Yorkshire and The Humber, both at 7.1 per-cent and the West Midlands at 6.8 per-cent.

“The regions with the lowest rate were the South East at 4.6 per-cent followed by the South West, at 4.8% and the East of England, at 5 per-cent.”

Not surprisingly the region topped the list of people claiming jobseekers allowance.

The Office for National Statistics said:

“The seasonally adjusted Claimant Count rate for the UK was 2.7 per-cent in November 2014, down 0.1 percentage points from October 2014, with the level down 26,900.

“The region with the highest rate in Great Britain was the North East, at 4.5 per-cent, down 0.1 percentage point from the previous month.”

> As usual, no mention of sanctions and their role in “reducing” unemployment levels.

Unemployment figures by region 

Darlington Council criticised over use of hundreds of zero-hours contracts

A council has defended its position after being criticised for employing almost 400 people on controversial zero-hour contracts.

Figures revealed following a request under the Freedom of Information Act show that Darlington Borough Council has 393 people on zero-hour contracts.

Zero-hour, or casual, contracts allow employers to hire staff with no guarantee of work and often without sick pay or pension benefits.

Labour has pledged to crackdown on their use and improve rights for workers.

Elizabeth Davison, assistant director for finance and human resources at Darlington Borough Council, defended the authority’s use of the contracts.

She said: “We only use zero-hour contracts for casual employees where the individual has the choice of whether to work when the work is offered, this gives both sides some flexibility.

“We use casual workers as an additional resource to our permanent staff to cover sickness or holidays or to cope with particularly busy periods.

“If any casual work becomes regular, an individual is paid the benefits that are associated with the role.”

Source –  Northern Echo,  12 Dec 2014