· News

Miliband pledges to restrict zero-hours contracts

A Labour Government would impose a crackdown on the use of zero-hours contracts by "exploitative" employers, Ed Miliband will tell a TUC conference today.

The Labour leader will say he wants to ban employers from insisting that workers be available when there is no guarantee of work.

Miliband will tell the TUC's annual conference in Bournemouth that while the contracts can be useful in some cases they have been terribly "misused" in others.

More than 5.5 million people could be on the controversial contracts, under which workers have no guarantee of hours or pay, according to a survey published today by trade union Unite.

The union said its research showed there was a "growing sub class" of insecure, low paid employees earning an average of £500 a month.

Excuse for exploitation

Under Labour proposals there would be action taken to prevent zero-hours contracts being used for people working regular hours over a sustained period.

In his speech, Miliband will acknowledge that more flexible working has been one of the key ways of keeping people in work despite the recession.

"We need flexibility. But we must stop flexibility being used as the excuse for exploitation," Miliband is expected say.

"Exploitation which leaves workers carrying all of the burdens of unpredictable hours, irregular pay, no security for the future.

"And nowhere is that more true than when it comes to zero-hour contracts."

Ex-Morrisons HRD steps in

The Labour leader has asked Norman Pickavance, former director of HR at supermarket Morrisons, to consult with businesses on how the changes could be implemented and whether the law would need to be changed to enforce them.

Pickavance told HR magazine he is interested in finding out why some employers believe the contracts are essential while others use different methods.

"I am doing this work because I believe business has to be an engine for growth in the economy, but that shouldn't mean it operates in an unethical way," said Pickavance.

"Some workplace practices seem to have got the balance wrong, and we need to understand why and whether we can develop a set of practical solutions."

Last week, Labour MP Tom Watson joined the growing number of people who want zero-hours contracts banned, calling them an "uncivilised" way to treat staff.