London jobs summit set to discuss zero-hours contracts

Zero-hours contracts will be the big topic of discussion at a jobs summit in London.

The opposition Labour Party is calling unions and employers together for the summit after a new report suggested that many more people are in jobs with zero-hours contracts than was previously thought.

A zero-hours contract means that a worker does not have fixed hours of employment on a weekly basis.

The Government's Business Secretary Vince Cable says "for some these can be the right sort of employment contract" as they may offer greater flexibility for the worker as well as the employer.

However, he has acknowledged that a review of zero-hours contracts is necessary in order to make sure they are being used appropriately given that they have become more common in recent years and there is anecdotal evidence of abuse in certain instances.

"For a contract that is now more widely used, we know relatively little about its effect on employers and employees," he admitted.

"Whilst it's important our workforce remains flexible, it is equally important that it is treated fairly. This is why I have asked my officials to undertake some work over the summer to better understand how this type of contract is working in practice today."

Meanwhile research published ahead of the summit has suggested that workers on zero-hours contracts tend to be paid less than those in standard employment.

The Resolution Foundation said the average hourly rates for zero-hours workers and other employees are 9 and 15 respectively.

Labour says the summit is essential to discuss what needs to be done to crack down on the misuse of zero-hours contracts, with shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna expressing the concern that many workers are experiencing lower pay and less security in their employment.

"Flexibility works for some, but the danger today is that too often insecurity at work becomes the norm," he commented.

"That is why Labour has convened this important summit bringing together representatives of employers and employers to consider what action must be taken."

Mr Umunna said if there are any examples of workers' rights being abused or of bad practice in methods of employment then they should be treated with "zero tolerance".

Copyright Press Association 2013