Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Zero hours campaign launched in Camden

As part of Camden Labour's commitment to the principles of the Living Wage, we are asking residents to join our campaign to put an end to Zero Hours contracts. You can sign up here.

Last week there was challenge from Camden Unison on zero hours - in summary our approach with our own staff is:

Direct employment - the Council does not provide a ‘zero hours’ contract, there are a variety of flexible practices across the Council where services have directly engaged with sessional workers and we are in the process of reviewing how these work in practice. 

Private Contractors - we are not supportive of how zero hours contracts are used as the mainstay of most providers we contract with in the adult social care market and will be working with other partners and local authorities to influence private sector providers to bring an end the kind of zero hour contracts and practices causing legitimate public concern.

zero hours contract enables employers to employ staff without any commitment that work will definitely be offered although it might.   In some sectors, it appears that some employers have taken a less responsible approach to the application of zero hours contracts.  The arrangement requires flexibility from both parties and can create more flexible working opportunities but also has downsides.

It is important to recognise there are many different types of flexible working contracts with a range of terms and conditions that can apply as part of these contracts.  The best employers adopt flexible arrangements in a responsible way in order to ensure that the benefits are felt by both the employee and the employer.  The most responsible employers are using this approach to tap into the local labour market, explicitly targeting particular groups to resource their services: helping women, older workers; and mothers to get into employment

There is significant public concern that in some private sector organisations zero hours contracts typically require the employee to be available for work as and when required, sometimes at short notice in response.  At worst this can impose a significant lack of certainty and security for the employee.   In some cases these appear to have replaced alternative forms of contracts which could help both parties to manage when work levels fluctuate – for example annual hours contracts.
  
Last year we were accredited as an Living Wage Employer by the Living Wage Foundation.  Our diverse workforce has many needs including being able to work flexibly without providing zero hours contracts nor operating the type of practice described above.  We employ a workforce across a diverse range of disciplines promoting flexible working arrangements for all our staff including advertising roles as suitable for flexible working.  This includes the sensible and pragmatic use of a small number of sessional workers – for example individuals on ‘term time contracts’ where hours and length of contract are agreed up front as part of their working arrangements.  

The Council has for many years had this requirement to deliver some services using ‘sessional’ workers at various times of the year.  Typically these can be temporary assignments for a small number of hours per week.  

The types of services where ‘sessional’ workers might be engaged include our Youth Services; Camden’s Music Service; our Parents Partnership Service and our Active Health Programme in roles such as Youth Workers; Tutors; Fitness Instructors and Independent Parental Supporters where demand for such services may fluctuate and is often difficult to predict.  

The number of sessional workers engaged on these arrangements is currently 157 – this includes 77 individuals who have not been required to work for the Council in the past 6 months.  In some services sessional workers are engaged as ‘self-employed’ contractors – for example Music Tutors who typically provide specialist tuition to pupils across a number of London Boroughs; or our Active Health programme which makes use of specialist instructors in Tai Chi or dance. 

With private contractors Camden is keen to promote better standards in outsourced contracts:  in 2011 we published new guidance for contractors.  We keep our contractual arrangements across all our services under regular review, including workforce arrangements with contractors where much employment practice is shaped by the nature of the market and rules governing procurement, for example leisure and adult social care. 

The impact of the significant financial challenges faced by the Council has meant that in some of our services such as adult social care there has been a requirement to work with private and voluntary sector providers to deliver these essential services in a different way. In doing so we have become aware that there are fundamental issues in the private sector in particular in the way that zero hour contracts are being used by some of these providers in the adult social care market.   

Whilst the Council alone cannot resolve these private sector provision problems, we are not supportive of how zero hours contracts are used as the mainstay of most providers in the adult social care market and will be working with other partners and local authorities to influence private sector providers to bring an end the kind of zero hour contracts and practices described above.

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