Chuka Umunna has blasted controversial zero-hours contracts that he claims leave Streatham workers ‘in despair’.
The shadow business secretary and Labour parliamentary candidate for Streatham backed Ed Miliband’s pledge to end an ‘epidemic’ of zero-hours contracts by giving regular contracts to workers after 12 weeks’ employment.
Labour’s previous policy had been to guarantee such workers a regular contract after one year of employment.
Mr Umunna told South West Londoner: “During my regular surgeries around Streatham, Balham, Clapham and Tulse Hill I’ve had constituents in despair because of how awfully they’re being treated on these contracts.
“I’m certain our area is disproportionately hit, and it’s heart breaking.
“That’s why I’ve held debates and votes in the House of Commons on this issue, it’s why I’ve fought so hard to get officials to understand the scale of the problem and it’s why if I’m re-elected and we have a Labour government we will outlaw exploitative zero-hours contracts.
“We need a government that stands up for everyone in our area and that is what Labour is all about.”
Liberal Democrat Parliamentary candidate Amna Ahmad claimed that Labour’s plan to ban them outright risked hurting workers.
She said: “It was the Liberal Democrats in this government who banned the use of exclusivity clauses in zero hours contracts.
“This effectively stopped employers insisting that employees only work for them and helped end this abuse.
“The Labour proposals of an outright ban go too far and risk preventing people who want flexibility in their employment from making choices that work for them.”
She also highlighted the use of such contracts within some Labour-run councils.
Ms Ahmad added: “A number of Labour-run London councils use zero hour contracts and the last Labour Government took no action on these contracts when they had the opportunity.
“The Liberal Democrats have actually taken action on this with a view to building a stronger economy and a fairer society.”
Conservative Parliamentary candidate for Streatham, Kim Caddy, pointed to the coalition government moving to legislate against exclusivity clauses, which prevent zero-hours contract workers from working for another company.
The initiative was announced last year by the Business Secretary Vince Cable.
Mrs Caddy told South West Londoner: “This government has already banned zero hours contracts with abusive exclusivity clauses.
“Zero hours contracts only account for around one in 50 jobs. Three quarters of the new jobs since this Government came to office are full time.
“The Conservatives will also create three million more apprenticeships by 2020 – in Streatham alone 2,340 apprenticeships have been started since 2010.”
Jonathan Bartley, Green Party Parliamentary candidate for Streatham, argued that Labour’s plans don’t go far enough to end the practise.
He said: “These latest announcements show Labour desperately trying to curry favour with big business, prioritising it over small business and ordinary people.
“Labour have finally admitted they won’t ban zero-hours contracts.
“Under Labour’s proposals companies will be able to ditch workers in the first three months and contract in new ones.
“The Green Party would make zero-hours contracts illegal.”
Two studies by the Office for National Statisitcs (ONS) offer different estimates of how prevalent zero-hour contracts are.
An ONS Labour Force Survey (LFS) of households suggests almost 697,000 people (2.3% of the workforce) were on zero-hour contracts between October 2014 and December 2014, an increase from 586,000 in the same period in 2013.
But a survey of 5,000 businesses put the number of contracts as high as 1.8million by August 2014, which is 400,000 higher than a previous estimate in January 2014.
An ONS statement read: “It should be noted that responses to the LFS can be affected by whether or not respondents recognise the term ‘zero-hours contract’.
“This figure is higher than that for October to December 2013 (586,000 or 1.9% of people in employment), but it is not possible to say how much of this increase is due to greater recognition of the term ‘zero-hours contracts’ rather than new contracts.”
The ONS survey also revealed 66% of people on zero-hour contracts don’t want to work more hours although 34% do, compared with only 13% on regular contracts who do.
Zero-hour contracts are most commonly used in the accommodation and food and education sectors.
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