Council defends stark increase in use of zero-hours contracts


ECDC - Credit: Archant

The number of staff working at East Cambridgeshire District Council under zero-hours contracts has increased by almost a third in the last year.

In August 2013, the Ely Standard revealed that the district council had 43 members of

staff employed on the controversial contract, which has made national headlines in recent months as unions allege they are being used as a means of “exploiting” staff.

Almost 12 months on and a new Freedom of Information Act request has revealed that the council now has 56 staff available for work on zero-hours contracts – an increase of some 30 per cent.

According to the council, staff on the contracts are used for cleaning, gardening, marketing, events and for tourist information.

The district council has insisted that its employees, no matter what contract they are employed under, are treated well.

John Hill, chief executive, said: “East Cambridgeshire District Council is a small organisation which consistently seeks to deliver the best for its residents. To deliver our services we sometimes need additional employees to provide support at peak times in areas such as tourism, including events, and holiday cover in areas such as the maintenance of park and open spaces and cleaning of public conveniences as well as for other services.

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“Regardless of what kind of contract our staff are employed under we know how important it is to treat staff well – we pride ourselves on ensuring that everyone works for the benefit of our residents and East Cambridgeshire as a whole.”

A zero-hour contract creates an ‘on call’ arrangement between employer and employee.

The employee agrees to be available for work as and when required, so that no particular number of hours or times of work are specified. The employee is expected to be on call and receives compensation only for hours worked.

Back in May, the Office for National Statistics said that 1.4million people in the UK were on zero-hours contracts.

UNISON, the UK’s largest trade union, is leading a campaign against zero-hours contracts and its eastern region branch is set to join a conference on the issue taking place in Bristol, on Friday.

The union said: “Zero-hours contracts are increasingly used by major employers, but they mean staff work - and get paid - only when employers need them, often at short notice.

“Some zero-hours contracts oblige workers to take all shifts they are offered, while there is often no holiday or sick pay.

“The conciliation service Acas says that a lot of workers on zero-hours contracts are afraid of looking for work elsewhere, turning down hours, or questioning their employment rights in case their work is withdrawn or reduced.

“UNISON has warned that his type of employment is insecure, stressful and makes budgeting impossible.”