Jobseekers to be punished for refusing zero-hours contracts

People looking for work could have their benefits cut if they turn down offers of zero-hours contracts.

Under current rules, unemployed adults can turn down the contracts, which do not guarantee paid work, without consequences. New legislation revealed by employment minister Esther McVey will see jobseekers' benefits suspended for three months if they turn down contracts "without good reason."

She explained that advisers at JobCentre Plus will be able to "mandate to zero-hours contracts." They will also be responsible for deciding if the contracts are suitable for people. 

A spokesperson for the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) said it is right that people on benefits "do everything they can" to secure work. They added that zero-hours contracts offer on average 25 hours a week of regular work. 

Labour MP Sheila Gilmore, said she was worried about the change in policy. "I fear that if people are required to take jobs with zero-hours contracts, they could be prevented from taking training courses or applying for other jobs that might lead to more stable and sustainable employment in the long term," she said. McVey addressed these concerns in an open letter.

The news comes after recent figures revealed there are more than 1.4 million workers on zero-hours contracts in the UK. Labour leader Ed Miliband has vowed to crack down on the practice if elected, prompting a mixed response from business groups and employment experts.