Protest at town hall as Camden Council swept up in zero-hours contracts storm

Protest against zero hours contracts outside Camden Town Hall

Protest against zero hours contracts outside Camden Town Hall - Credit: Archant

Camden Council was swept up in the growing storm over zero-hours contracts this week as activists protested against their use in the borough.

Members of public sector union Unison gathered outside Camden Town Hall on Tuesday with placards urging the council to adopt a “zero-tolerance” policy towards the controversial employment practice.

Camden Unison branch secretary George Binette said there were dozens of people working in Camden on zero-hours contracts in vital services such as home care for dementia suffers which are contracted out to private firms by the council.

He said: “The point of the protest was to highlight the yawning gap between Camden’s rhetorical policy commitment to a living wage and the reality of what’s going on, particularly in home care.”

Camden Council has promoted its commitment to the London Living Wage of £8.55 per hour, but Mr Binette believes this sits awkwardly with its perceived reluctance to stamp out zero-hours contracts.

Zero-hours contracts, under which workers are not guaranteed any shifts each week, have faced national scrutiny with research suggesting that up to one million people are on them.

Senior political figures including business secretary Vince Cable have warned that some workers are being exploited.

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Mr Binette said: “It’s eroding workers rights in terms of sick pay, holiday pay and access to pension schemes.

“It creates a climate of insecurity, and in a sector like home care, it raises serious issues over the quality of provision to vulnerable service users.”

Mr Binette said hundreds of staff in Camden’s gyms and leisure centres are also thought to be on zero-hours contracts.

Cllr Theo Blackwell, Camden’s Cabinet member for finance, said the council “does not support” zero-hour contracts and would put pressure on private firms to bring an end to the practice.

He said: “Due to severe government cuts to our funding for adult social care we, like 97 per cent of all local authorities, have to work with private and voluntary sector providers to deliver these essential services.

“However, we are aware that there are fundamental issues in the private sector with zero-hour contracts being used by some of these providers in the adult social care market.

“We cannot solve private sector provision problems alone, but we do not support this practice and we will be working with other partners and local authorities to put pressure on private sector providers to bring an end to zero hour contracts and improve conditions for their staff.”