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Hundreds of Tower Hamlets council workers on ‘zero hour’ contracts

16:36 12 August 2013

Hundreds of local authority workers are on controversial zero-hour contracts in London’s East End, it has emerged.

Six London boroughs including Tower Hamlets use workers on contracts which the public service union Unison wants banned from town halls.

One-in-20 workers on Tower Hamlets’ payroll is on a ‘zero hour’ contract with no guaranteed work, sick pay or even travel allowance between assignments.

Using zero-hour contracts in private trade and industry has been criticised by Business Secretary Vince Cable who has warned employers against exploiting staff.

But trade union researchers putting in Freedom of Information requests to town halls have discovered many public sector employees such as care workers and tutors are also on such contracts.

“Care workers on these terrible contracts don’t have any idea how much money they’ll take home from one week to the next,” a Unison spokesman said.

Tower Hamlets council has 365 workers on these contracts—but insists that “used appropriately” they provide flexibility.

A Town Hall spokesman promised: “We will keep zero-hour contracts under review and plan to issue guidance on their use.”

These were mostly tutors on adult learning courses, music and languages, but also registrars and youth services in the 12 months to April, no more than 5.5 per cent of the council workforce.

Now unions have called for zero-hour contracts to be banned altogether.

Unison’s Tower Hamlets branch secretary John McLoughlin said: “These contracts are the product of the steady erosion of people’s employment rights in pursuit of employers’ flexibility—which means job protection has progressively declined.

“They offer no guaranteed work or pay, no security on sick pay, no guaranteed holidays and no protection against arbitrary dismissal as bosses don’t need to sack you—they can simply offer you ‘zero hours’ without reason or explanation.”

Tower Hamlets has better working conditions for its directly-employed staff, the union acknowledges. Home Care workers get minimum guaranteed hours with extra pay for weekends and anti-social hours.

But the same conditions do not apply where town halls put services out to companies using zero-hour contracts, it warns.

Unison is calling for “zero tolerance for zero hour contracts” and wants public bodies like Tower Hamlets to refuse to deal with firms operating them.

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