Exclusive: Social enterprises blasted over rise in zero hour contracts


Embarrassment for the sector as unions accuse organisations of double standards 

8th September 2017 by Robert Armour 2 Comments

A worrying rise in the use of zero hours contracts by Scotland’s social firms has been condemned by the country’s leading trade unions.

Figures published this week in the 2017 social enterprise census show a 3% increase in staff employed on the contracts, despite statistics last month revealing a decrease in their use by private sector SMEs.

Findings reveal that while the SE sector has increased in size and revenue since the last census in 2015, a shocking 15% of these organisations are now using zero hour agreements.

The revelation is as a major embarrassment for a sector which prides itself on ethical working practices.

Dave Watson, head of public affairs at Unison Scotland, called on the sector to stop exploiting vulnerable workers. 

"It is very disappointing that zero-hours contracts are on the increase,” he told TFN.

“These numbers are just the tip of the iceberg. Many more workers are employed on exploitative nominal hours contracts that create similar problems for this vulnerable workforce.”

There are 5,600 social enterprise in Scotland, according to the census, meaning around 840 could be exploiting the workforce via zero hour contracts.

Bryan Simpson of Unite said the figures were not isolated with some employers in the third sector “taking the definition of voluntary too far.”

He said: “The Fair Fringe campaign unearthed some worrying examples of for-profit organisations such as the Pleasance using their charitable status to give staff an honorarium of between £6-800 for five weeks full time work.

“We are currently working with progressive MPs to put together legislation which seeks to outlaw unpaid trial shifts.

“While we appreciate that the third sector relies on voluntary work we are seeing far too many companies taking the definition of voluntary far too far.

“Our campaign against unpaid trial shifts will not shy away from tackling abuse in the third sector.”

Zero hour contracts explained

Exclusive: Social enterprises blasted over rise in zero hour contracts

Zero-hours, or casual, contracts allow employers to hire staff with no guarantee of work.

A high proportion of staff at companies including retailer Sports Direct, pub chain JD Wetherspoon and cinema operator Cineworld are on zero-hours contracts.

They mean employees work only when they are needed by employers, often at short notice. 

Their pay depends on how many hours they work Sick pay is often not included, although holiday pay should be, in line with working time regulations.

Employers say zero-hours contracts allow them to take on staff in response to fluctuating demand for their services, in sectors such as tourism and hospitality.

Employers also say that many workers appreciate the flexibility that a zero-hours contract gives them.

However Duncan Thorp, policy and communications manager Social Enterprise Scotland, said the figures reflected a general rise of insecure employment across Scotland and the UK and that the issue of zero hours contracts was not “clear cut.”

He added: “Exploitative zero hours contracts should be phased out but some workers do benefit from the flexibility of this type of work.

“We recognise the need to examine the issue of zero hours contracts in the sector in more depth, to really understand what is happening.

“We strongly believe that everyone who works in a social enterprise should have a fulfilling, secure and well paid job, where their workplace rights are respected."

A spokesperson for the Scottish Government said the figures were a setback to the ethical credentials the sector has worked hard to achieve.  

“This year’s census shows that social enterprises make a huge contribution to our communities and economy, reinvesting all profits into a social or environmental mission. 

“But those contributions must be felt not just by those who benefit, but the staff who help deliver them.  

“Making employees feel valued, rewarded and engaged in their work is important for a strong economy.

“We are using all powers at our disposal to encourage ethical business practice and protect workers’ rights.”

Use of zero hour contracts by sector%
Arts and creative13
Early learning and childcare21
Community centres and halls15
Health and social care20

8th September 2017 by John Cunningham

Duncan Thorp is correct in saying that this is not a clear-cut issue. Genuine casual contracts do not seek to exploit or even to form an ongoing contract between the parties. This arrangement can often be beneficial to both employer and worker and whether an ongoing contract is formed may only be identified on the specific facts and circumstances of each individual case. Basically unless there has been clear mutual intention to form a contract of that truly casual nature it can in some cases only be determined in retrospect and that uncertainty is clearly being used by unethical and unscrupulous employers to avoid their statutory and moral requirements to treat people reasonably and fulfil statutory employment obligations. So until the government finds a way to legislate effectively to put an end to this deplorable form of exploitation, which will be a complex and difficult, and possibly impossible, task to perform to a fully satisfactory degree the problem will continue. Casual working arrangements have always existed, usually at an acceptable level and without causing exploitation. However, in recent years there has been an explosion in the use of such arrangements and that increase in itself is a reliable measure of the level of reprehensible exploitation which now exists. Any employer who has become part of that increased use of casual working arrangements needs to examine their current practices, and indeed their consciences, and where exploitation could even be reasonably argued, it should be stopped and rectified immediately, and in some cases perhaps even retrospectively, before the law makes them do it. Obviously the Third Sector should be leading the way in doing so as an example to other employers, which would reflect a suitably charitable ethos.

8th September 2017 by William Douglas

It is only embarrassing in those cases where staff do not want zero hours contracts.Many do.