AoC on lookout for “good” zero-hour contracts

The Association of Colleges (AoC) is on the hunt for “good” examples of zero-hour contracts amid an investigation into the controversial agreements by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).

The contracts have been criticised as leaving staff without guaranteed hours, sick or holiday pay, and for making it difficult to get tenancy agreements, credit cards or loans because it is impossible to show a regular income.

The University and College Union (UCU) is campaigning against their use and is expected to release its FoI findings soon on how widespread they are among colleges.

The contracts have also come under fire from Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who said this week: “Families have to plan to pay bills – everyone has to plan for what their income is and what they are going to pay out. That can cause very intense insecurity and anxiety indeed.”

Nevertheless, the AoC is looking for positive examples of zero-hour contracts in use by colleges following talks with BIS officials about the investigation.

Emma Mason, AoC director of employment policy and services, told members in an email yesterday: “AoC met with BIS officials earlier this week to discuss the review of the use of zero hours contracts.

“It is apparent that evidence of good practice will be extremely helpful in illustrating how these employment contracts benefit both the employer and the worker.”

The AoC has also been drawing up legal advice to help colleges respond to the UCU’s FoI request for details of their use of zero-hour contracts.

Marc Whitworth, AoC employment services manager, said: “There are parts of the FE sector that use zero-hour contracts and we have an interest in understanding where this might work for employers and staff.

“We have discussions with BIS as part of our representative role on a variety of issues.

“Our role is to offer advice and guidance to support colleges in ensuring their employment practices, terms and conditions are fair and lawful.

“Colleges will make local decisions on how best to resource services and meet the needs of students to ensure effective delivery of learning to students effectively.”

The Office for National Statistics said around 200,000 staff across the UK economy could be working on zero-hour contracts, but some experts think the actual number is far higher.

But the UCU is campaigning against their use, saying they denied staff the financial security or stability to operate on a month-to-month basis, and denied students continuity with their teachers.

The contracts, it is claimed, leave workers vulnerable to sudden reductions in shift patterns and last-minute shift cancellations at the discretion of managers.

However, the UCU is currently collating its own data on the prevalence of zero-hour contracts in colleges and universities and hopes to release the findings this month.

Simon Renton, UCU president, said: “Zero-hour contracts remain the unacceptable underbelly of further and higher education.

“Only the catering sector employs more people on casual contracts than our colleges and universities, and staff and students suffer from their widespread use.

“Staff are denied full employee status and key employment rights. Without a guaranteed income they are unable to make financial or employment plans on a year to year, or even month to month basis.

“Students miss out on a lack of continuity and, often, receive reduced access to staff employed on minimal hours. There are other ways to deliver the flexibility that employers claim they need while providing a level of financial security for staff and continuity for students.”