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Cable vows to end 'abuse' of zero-hours contracts

Business secretary Vince Cable will today promise a crackdown on zero-hours contracts in a speech at the Liberal Democrat conference in Glasgow.

The minister will use his keynote speech to announce a consultation to examine what he will claim are "abuses in the system" around zero-hours contracts.

Under the plans employers will no longer be able to demand employees work exclusively for them, unless they provide agreed minimum hours. However, Cable is not expected to call for an outright ban.

"This controversial practice, where workers are denied any fixed hours, is much more widely used than we had previously thought," Cable will say.

The number of employers using the controversial contracts is unknown. Earlier this year the ONS predicted 250,000 workers are on them, the CIPD said there could be one million, and last week trade union group Unite predicted around 5.5 million workers could be on a zero-hours contract.

Cable's measures are seen as an attempt to challenge the Conservative party's stance on workers' rights.

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said that while it was good to hear Cable talk about zero-hours contracts, "warm words" would not achieve change.

"If the Government is serious about ending abusive zero-hours, then it must legislate to stop exploitative employers," she said. "It's time for action rather than more consultations."

Rogue directors

Cable will also unveil proposals to improve transparency surrounding the ownership of businesses by making it easier to disqualify "rogue directors" of companies for longer periods.

"We need to see fairness as well as trust in our director disqualification regime," he will say.

"For too long, a small rotten core has got away with either a slap on the wrist, a ban from working in their own industry or, at the most, a time-limited ban.

"This neglects the fact that rogue directors' decisions affect the lives of the employees they are responsible for and the businesses they deal with.

"That is why I will beef up the laws to ban rogue directors from running British companies, so dodgy directors face the strongest possible consequences for their irresponsible actions."

Minimum wage campaign

Cable is also expected to ask the Low Pay Commission to carry out a study on what economic conditions would be needed for the minimum wage to rise more quickly than it has in recent years without costing jobs.

"The National Minimum Wage is a vital safety net in protecting the low-paid," Cable will say.

"As signs of an economic recovery start to emerge, we need to do more to make sure that the benefits of growth are shared fairly across the board."