The issue of zero hour contracts has been in the news again as the number of people employed under such terms rises to 1.4m, while the UK Government has confirmed that benefit claimants refusing to take these jobs could be liable to sanctions under Universal Credit, when it is rolled out across the country.

At present jobseekers can refuse these jobs due to their uncertain nature and the lack of guarantees over minimum working hours, a situation which can play havoc with benefits.  Under Universal Credit, however, the DWP claim that the system will be more responsive, allowing claimants to work different hours with a real-time adjustment to their benefits.

The news has been criticised by campaigners who argue that forcing people into insecure employment, which is often low paid, will restrict the time that they have to look for alternative, secure, better paid work and prevent them from enrolling in education or training.  it also appears to go against recommendations made by the Scottish Affairs Select Committee following their investigation of the growing use of zero hour contracts, which reported that:

“The employment terms of a vacancy must be made clear to a Job Seeker and, if the vacancy is an offer of insecure employment, the individual must be allowed to reject it without facing sanction. Individuals must also be allowed to leave zero hours contracts which do not provide sufficient work without facing sanction for doing so. Jobcentre Plus staff should be putting people into permanent employment not pushing them into exploitative working conditions.”

Those employed on zero hour contracts are most likely to be women, young people and people over the age of 65 in low paid sectors such as tourism, catering and food production, where up to half of employers offer such terms.

Source:  The Guardian

Scottish Affairs Select Committee: Zero Hours Contracts in Scotland report