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Why Cable’s zero hours contracts crackdown won’t ruffle Tory feathers

17 September 2013

What do the Tories make of Vince Cable’s crackdown on zero hours contracts? The Business Secretary’s review has been long-known, but yesterday he announced that he would ‘act against abusive practices in zero hours contracts, like exclusivity arrangements which prevent workers seeking alternatives’. Some read this as an overture to Labour, but from conversations that I’ve had recently with senior Conservatives, I’m not so sure.

The Tories haven’t given us many clues on what they do make of zero hours contracts, largely allowing the debate to be framed by Labour, and then leaving Cable to talk about them. But Conservative ministers are not unhappy with tackling exclusivity arrangements, whereby a worker cannot take on another job and must be contracted solely to that employer , even if they are given few or no hours each week. One told me recently that he didn’t think that was a very free market arrangement at all.

But if Cable oversteps the mark and tries to crack down on the contracts in general, then he’ll find colleagues on the other side of the Coalition giving him short shrift. They are aware of the role these flexible arrangements have played in keeping companies going and workers off the dole. Even Labour accepts that, which is why Ed Miliband has not said he will ban them as some of his colleagues wish he would. Interestingly, one of the questions at yesterday’s leader Q&A session was from a delegate who was desperate for the government to keep these contracts to help young people move in and out of employment. So it’s not fair to say that this is a Lib Dem vs Tory issue, either.

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  • Smithersjones2013

    Anything that restricts a persons choice to what undertake whatever work they wish to should be opposed whether it be politicians who want to ban zero hour contracts or companies who want to impose exclusivity clauses in zero hour contracts. This is about providing workers as much freedom and flexibility to make a living as possible.

  • DWWolds

    No doubt the sainted Vince would like employers to pay people when there is no work for them.

    • Mynydd

      How about paying a fair wage for a fair days work.

      • DWWolds

        And how about realizing that this is a very complex situation?

        Germany is generally recognized to have the most healthy economy in Europe yet there is no minimum wage there.

        Many companies here have to compete with those in overseas countries where the wages are much lower than they here. If our companies are to compete a wage increase would have to be matched by an increase in productivity. And unless sales grow that increase in productivity is likely to lead to a decrease in staffing levels.

        A comparison of the economies of Germany and France is revealing in this context. In Germany there is no minimum wage and the economy is doing well. In France there is a high level of employee protection and the economy is in the doldrums.

  • toco10

    Given his increasingly erratic behaviour and desire to tax semi detached house owners in Twickenham there is little doubt that Cable will no longer be a MP post May 2015.

    • telemachus

      Why on earth should you chaps in Twickenham sit on an excess of assets to fund your nursing home while my aunt in Hartlepool is thrown on workhouse penury?

      • telemackus

        Indeed. All old people under our progressive national socialism shall enjoy identical benefits in the new peoples workhouses. Why should the rich live in mansions when we the representatives of the people have to suffer the slums of Marylebone and Islington?

  • Noa

    Time for the comprehensive introduction of zero hours contracts for the problematic service ‘industries’ of politics and the media.
    Let trial them on MPs, their wives and other family employees, together with journalists, commencing immediately.
    And, as usefully, the Government could scrap beer duty and rescind the total smoking ban which has destroyed Britain’s independent pub industry and thrown hundreds of thousands out of work.

  • Hello

    This isn’t a zero hour contract problem though, is it? There’s no reason why employers should be able to ban anyone from simultaneously working for another company unless that employee holds sensitive information and the second company is a competitor. On top of that, what you usually find is that for any employees below the management level this is an issue that concerns the second company more, because the sensitive information would usually be trivial and the risk of a lawsuit is bigger than the likely gains from exploiting it. Why not ban it for anyone whose job does not consist of managing other workers?

  • Alexsandr

    no-one seems to have asked those on these contracts what they think. I imagine many people quite like them.
    Most people working for agencies will be on them. Banning them will kill of short term agency work.

  • dalai guevara

    It won’t? Just read the comments section to see how it bleeding will.

  • roger

    Most people don’t know about the struggle to abolish the old method of dock labour, a zero hours scheme of the past.
    Today the idea of careers seem to have been destroyed by short term selfishness.

    • HookesLaw

      Thats because unlike you most people do not live in the past.
      If I did I might remind you of the national dock labour scheme where unions had an absolute veto over dismissal and total control over recruitment, ie dockers had jobs for life even if there was nothing for them to do.
      Another example of where trade union dominance of the labour party ruined a British industry and gave away work to foreign competitors.

  • HookesLaw

    Cable pushing on an open door and making a mountain out of a convenient molehill. He wants to sound like Tarzan but in fact he is pratting about like Jane.

    • Tony_E

      Seeing as employment terms are already covered under the 1977 Unfair Contract Terms Act, then it is already likely that the law exists to act against any dismissal under the exclusivity rule.

      It must be an unfair contract as the employer has significant authority, and if the employer does not offer consistent levels of work while trying to exlude the worker from other forms of economic activity, then surely this is already covered by the act.

      • HookesLaw

        Yes – Cable is spouting off to sound good. I don’t think anyone would agree with unfair terms.
        Employees looking to work for various employers would have tpo balance that against letting down (and so upseting) one or nother of them.
        Meantime this way of working gets the economy going after its recession.

      • Mynydd

        If this is so why hasn’t the government taken action against employers under the exclusivity rule. It would be interesting if his department produced a list of companies operating zero hour exclusive contract, and donate to the Conservative party.

        • HookesLaw

          We know all the unions do.

        • Tony_E

          Because it’s not strictly a ‘Government’ issue to take individual employers to task. There are systems, such as the employment tribunal service, which would hear complaints of this nature and decide them on the basis of the law as it currently stands.

          If the law was not seen to be applied correctly, or was not robust enough to have the desired effect, then it would be government’s role to update the legislation (the 1977 Act most likely).

          Despite zero hours contracts and exclusivity being linked here – they are technically seperate issues. Where an employer offers a very high average number of non fixed hours on a regular basis in practice, it might be fair to insist not on exclusivity, but a minimun or set number of available hours, as part of the contract terms.
          But where there are no hours guaranteed, and there are clear examples of employees being left with very little or no regular work, no level of exclusivity could possibly be considered reasonable.

    • Smithersjones2013

      Why is he wanting to impersonate Heseltine?

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