Hundreds of Newham Council workers on zero-hour contracts

Hundreds of local authority workers are on controversial zero-hour contracts in east London, it has emerged.

Six London boroughs including Newham use workers on contracts with no guaranteed hours.

Newham’s Human Resources system currently identifies 546 such contracts.

Using zero-hour contracts in private trade and industry has been criticised by Business Secretary Vince Cable who has warned employers against exploiting staff.

But trade union researchers putting in Freedom of Information requests to town halls have discovered many public sector employees such as care workers and tutors are also on ‘zero hour’ contracts with no guaranteed work, sick pay or even travel allowance between assignments.

“Care workers on these terrible contracts don’t have any idea how much money they’ll take home from one week to the next,” a Unison spokesman said.

Newham Council is now looking into the 546 workers on these contracts. The larger figure quoted by the union of 1,060 came from the council automatically extracting data from its payroll including school staff not employed by the Town Hall but paid through its system, it pointed out. These included supply teachers and exam invigilators.

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A Town Hall statement said: “Now that this error has come to light, a revised response will be issued. Some of these staff still contracted have not worked for us for a number of years.

“Having a pool of local people we can call on and pay as and when required is preferable to using agencies.”

Most are in education, working as term-time travel buddies, tutors, youth workers and crèche assistants. Others are in music tuition, where tutors are paid hourly, followed by school relief site supervisors and assistant licensing officers working as required on anti-social behaviour. Others paid “when required” include fostering and adoption panel members and educational appeal clerks.

Unison’s John McLoughlin said: “These contracts are the product of the steady erosion of people’s employment rights in pursuit of employers’ flexibility.

“They offer no guaranteed work or pay, no security on sick pay, no guaranteed holidays, and no protection against arbitrary dismissal as bosses don’t need to sack you—they can simply offer you ‘zero hours’ without reason or explanation.”

Unison is calling for “zero tolerance for zero hour contracts” and wants public bodies like Newham to refuse to deal with firms operating them.