MPs accuse councils of encouraging growth of zero-hours contracts

Local authority cuts are fuelling rise in "exploitative" contracts for social care workers, Scottish MPs report.

Care worker driving between appointments
Many care workers are not paid for their travel time (Credit: Zazou/Rex, posed by model)

A cross-party committee of Scottish MPs has blamed local authorities for the “alarming” increase in the use of zero-hours contracts in the care sector.

In the interim report on its inquiry into zero-hour contracts, the UK Parliament’s Scottish Affairs Committee says local authority cutbacks are encouraging private and voluntary sector care providers to put people on these contracts.

“We recognise the financial pressures that local authorities are under, but it is disappointing that the reduction in funding has prompted some to oversee a diminution in the terms and conditions of workers in the social care sector,” says the committee’s report.

The report says that around 20,000 care workers in Scotland are on zero-hour employment contracts and that contracts that do not pay staff for the time they spend travelling between clients are illegal.

It also highlighted that care workers on zero hour contracts fear being blacklisted if they turn down work due to illness and so continue to work when unwell, creating a risk that they may pass infections onto clients.

Committee chair Ian Davidson MP said: “The overwhelming majority of zero-hours contracts are abusive and exploitative and should be abolished. In most cases their use is evidence of sloppy, lazy or incompetent management, who intimidate their workforce by keeping them insecure.

“We believe the UK and Scottish governments must use every lever at their disposal to affect a cultural change against exploitative contracts.”

The committee’s report calls on the Scottish Government to take steps to ensure that local authority commissioners make good terms and conditions for care workers part of their criteria when selecting social care providers.

“An improved procurement policy from the Scottish Government would send a clear message to local authorities to reduce their reliance on zero-hours workers to meet their need for social care provision,” it said.

The report also urges the UK government to use its investigation into zero-hours contracts to tackle the problem of care workers not being paid for the time spent travelling between clients.

The committee is still working on its final report, but published its interim findings to meet the deadline for the UK government’s recent consultation on zero-hour contracts.

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