Britain's zero-hours contracts being eyed by other countries
By Stephanie De Silguy, AFP
June 2, 2014, 12:01 am TWN
LONDON--Britain is leading the way in so-called "zero-hours" contracts that keep employees available but with no guarantee of work — and other countries are watching with interest.
Trade unions are waging a bitter war against the contracts that some 1.4 million Britons have signed up for, saying people feel forced into signing them.
The latest skirmish is over plans by Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative-led government to halt unemployment benefits to those who won't take a zero-hours contract.
But to EU nations looking to increasing flexibility and boost their economies, the ultra-liberal British policy looks increasingly attractive.
The contracts were introduced in 1996 by Conservative Prime Minister John Major to make it easier to employ students and seasonal workers.
But now they are being used by employers ranging from McDonald's to Ryanair and even Buckingham Palace.
The British government itself uses 250,000, according to a survey carried out by the Guardian newspaper.
The Office of National Statistics, which bases its figures on a period of two weeks in January and February, said that around 13 percent of employers admitted to using them, rising to 50 percent in tourism, the restaurant trade and the health industry.
Laura Lewis, 25, worked for three years on a zero-hours contract at a home for the severely physically disabled in Cambridge, eastern England, before quitting.