The UK Home Care Association has warned that Labour’s plan to ban zero-hour contracts if it wins the election will “further challenge” the economic viability of the social care sector.
Yesterday Ed Miliband said Labour would end zero-hour contracts, where employees are not guaranteed a set number of working hours.
He said a Labour government would pass a law giving employees the right to a regular contract after 12 weeks of working regular hours for an employer.
But the UK Home Care Association (UKHCA) said better guidance on the use of zero-hour contracts would be better than a “blanket withdrawal”.
“Under Labour’s proposals, the economic viability of the sector will be even further challenged, increasing the risk of providers leaving the market,” said a UKHCA spokesman. “This could result in the unintended consequence of reducing the capacity to care for people who use these vital services even further.”
He added that when used appropriately, zero-hour contracts can offer flexibility to employees as well as employers: “Many providers report the widespread attraction of flexible contracts amongst their workforce, whilst enabling providers to manage the peaks and troughs in demand.”
Approximately 150,000 home care workers are employed on zero-hour contracts.
Low funding levels
A spokesperson for Care UK, one of the largest health and social care providers, said: “We don’t use zero-hour contracts that prevent colleagues from working with other organisations. We know that many care workers value flexibility and, in some cases, the ability to work with different employers. We hope that any new proposals take full account of these preferences, as well as providing appropriate protection to employees.”
She added that for many providers, the challenge was around encouraging colleagues to take up additional hours, rather than using zero-hour contracts to reduce cost.
“The reality is the use of zero-hour contracts in domiciliary care is driven by the low funding levels now available from local authority commissioners, which make it imperative to match care workers hours exactly to the changing needs of service users,” she said.
“Care UK would wholly support a move to fixed hour contracts – where they are what colleagues want – provided that local authority fee rates are able to reflect the additional fixed costs.”
Joan Beck, chair of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services’ (Adass) workforce network, told Community Care that the potential impact of Labour’s proposal would need to be examined.
“The consequence of [Labour’s proposal] will have to be worked out in detail should it be implemented,” she said. “The overall position is that Adass believes care staff should be more secure, better remunerated and better trained than they are at present. All those objectives come at a cost, and it is vital that those who share those goals with us ensure sufficient funds are available to achieve them.”