Newcastle and North Tyneside: ‘only two councils not to employ workers on zero contracts’

Photo by: Nick Ansell/PA Archive/PA Images.
Photo by: Nick Ansell/PA Archive/PA Images.

Tyne and Wear Labour councils still employ over a thousand people on zero-hours contracts, despite pledging to eradicate them at the last election, an SR News investigation has found.

However, Newcastle and North Tyneside are reported to be the only two councils not to employ workers on zero-hours contracts.

As many as 1,349 workers were found to be currently working under the terms of no-fixed hours contracts, commonly known as Zero Hours.

Gateshead Council is reported to have the most, with 778 people, which is more than 50 per cent of the total employed on no-fixed hour terms.

Sunderland is next on the list with 369, while South Tyneside employ 202 on that basis.

A large percentage are employed in the education sector, while hospitality and casual workers for council events were also prominent.

A Unison spokesperson branded the findings a ‘disgrace’ and ‘exploitative’. Nicky Ramanandi, UNISON’s Deputy Convenor in the Northern Region, said: “It is a disgrace that the UK is seeing so many people being forced to agree to zero hours contracts.

“Employers are using these contracts as a means of avoiding their responsibilities including for pensions. The impact on individuals, usually low-paid, part-time workers, is stark.

“People are left at the mercy of managers to give them hours usually on the minimum wage. They are unsure how much they will be earning, placing them under huge pressure. Many are forced to resort to food banks to survive. Some feel they are forced to accept a zero hours contract or face losing unemployment benefits.

“There is a difference between flexibility and exploitation. This is why UNISON is committed to campaigning for a Living Wage and proper terms and conditions of employment so that those in work can live with dignity.”

The number of people employed on zero hours contracts in the UK rose by 19 per cent in the last year to 744,000 people, which is  2.4 per cent of the country’s working population of just over 31 million people, according to a report released by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) in September, 2015.

All three councils which make use of staff on zero hours contracts declined to comment on the reports.

However, Councillor Veronica Dunn, Cabinet Member for Resources in Newcastle, reaffirmed the city’s position on the controversial working terms. She said: “Newcastle City Council do not have employees on zero hours contracts.

“We pay the Newcastle Living Wage and are committed to introducing the Living Wage Foundation’s National Living Wage during 2016 to help us achieve our aim of making Newcastle a working city.”

Another ONS report in February found that almost 30,000 North East workers were employed on zero hours terms, amounting to 2.6 per cent of the workforce – 0.2 per cent above the national average.

Although the figure was lower than in many areas of the country, the percentage of the working population was the fourth highest in Britain. As much as 39 per cent of those earned less than £111 per week, meaning they were currently below the threshold for statutory sick pay.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) described the findings as ‘deeply damaging for society’.

Neil Foster, Policy and Campaigns officer for the Northern TUC, said: “Many people on these contracts need, and want, more hours and greater certainty but instead find themselves at the beck and call of employers and in quite a vulnerable situation.

“Working people need to be able to look forward to the future and a real economic recovery relies on greater confidence – but zero hours contracts simply don’t provide that.”

This all follows Labour promise to end what they describe as ‘exploitative’ zero hours contracts in their manifesto – a policy reinforced by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Statistics on zero contracts available here. 

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