Unions attack 'weak' recommendation to give workers right to request fixed hours

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Unions have strongly attacked the suggestion that workers on zero-hours contracts should be given the right to request a move onto fixed hours.

The CBI has recommended that a right to request fixed hours should be introduced on the same basis as the right to ask for flexible working arrangements.

A Government-commissioned review into employment practices is expected to back the idea, but unions said the measure would be "weak" and would not go far enough to tackle the huge increase in the number of workers on zero-hours contracts.

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the Royal Society of Arts, who is leading the review into insecure work and the gig economy, is expected to say in a report next month that new rules are needed to ensure businesses are not exploiting workers.

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "This could mean close to zero action on zero-hours contracts.

"A 'right to request' guaranteed hours from an exploitative boss is no right at all for many workers.

"To make a real change, we should turn this policy on its head.

"Everyone should be entitled to guaranteed hours, with a genuine choice for workers to opt out, free from pressure from their boss.

"Anyone asked to work outside their contracted hours should be paid extra on top of their usual wage.

"All parties should be upfront about what is on offer to working people trapped in insecure work this election - and stop hiding behind a review that will report after voting is over."

Tim Roache, general secretary of the GMB union, said: "This is basically the right to ask your bosses not to exploit you.

"That's going to make absolutely no difference to people's lives. It's tantamount to 'please sir, can I have some more?'

"The very nature of a zero-hours contract means that any employee making noises about rights, proper hours or how they're treated will simply find they don't get any hours next week.

"This is weak, it doesn't tackle the issue and if this is the result of the report, it's not worth the paper it's written on."

The CBI submission said a right to request fixed hours would be an effective measure without undermining workers' options.

Conor D'Arcy, policy analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said: "Introducing a right to request fixed hours for workers on zero-hours contracts would be a bold and welcome move.

"It would address people's concerns about job insecurity, while maintaining the flexibility for workers that still want them.

"Ministers will need to decide on the qualifying period for this new right, with three months being the best way to align it with other key workers' rights.

"With business now backing the plan, it should be introduced whoever wins the election."

More than 900,000 workers are on zero-hours contracts.

Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said: "Merely giving workers a "right to request" fixed hours will not stop exploitative bosses or curb the use of zero hours and short hours' contracts.

"It is a totally useless measure which will continue to see workers denied the security of knowing how much they earn from one week to the next.

"With a shocking 3.8 million people experiencing in-work poverty, it's high time that work in this country paid and the misery of insecure work was eradicated.

"Workers shouldn't be reduced to begging for more hours like Oliver Twist and should instead have the security of guaranteed hours.

"An incoming government must act to end the abuse of zero hours and short hours' contacts by following the lead of New Zealand by banning them."

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: "Staff shouldn't have to grovel for proper contracts. The fear of work being taken away is enough to stop most people from speaking out.

"Employers should guarantee fixed hours to all workers who want them ­­and this should be enforceable."

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