The Scottish Affairs Committee heard that companies are using "zero hours" contracts when there is not a justifiable business need, leading to unnecessary insecurity, lack of opportunity to access finance, mortgages or even rental housing, and loss of important employment rights.
The types of business using these contracts are remarkably widespread, from major leisure and service brands, to the social care sector, the Tate galleries and even Buckingham Palace.
Businesses often cite the need for "flexibility" to respond to changing demand to justify these contracts. Yet USDAW’s evidence shows that many employees on zero-hours actually do work the same number of hours every week, but cannot enjoy the benefits of pay security, employment contributions or employment rights.
Ian Davidson MP, Chair of the Committee said:
“We heard some examples of terrible practice today, with people being texted to come in to work in the morning only to be turned away when they get there, losing their travel costs and any other arrangements they had made. Obviously this would be an impossible situation for anyone with children or people to care for.
“It would also be difficult or impossible for people who are under-employed to seek other work, because of the need to be available for work that might not actually come, or being locked into one, exclusive zero-hours contract.
“Businesses say they need the flexibility to respond to changing demand, yet it seems that these contracts are in fact being used as a way of dodging giving people the security, employment benefits and rights that they deserve. It also allows them to unfairly undercut decent employers who pay the full costs of providing proper employment.
“USDAW have suggested to us that one way forward would be to "normalise" people’s work: offer people contracts that reflect their normal working hours, assessed over perhaps a 12 week period. Those contracts would then carry all the important rights – to holidays, to sick pay, to statutory notice periods – that people work hard to earn.
“We are really just beginning to take evidence in this inquiry and we will continue to look at the impacts and possible solutions to this problem. We are particularly concerned however to hear evidence of these practices from the people affected.
“We have experience, from our inquiry into blacklisting, of gathering and investigating sensitive evidence and we would urge people to come forward with their own stories.”