Labour’s announcement on zero hours contracts today as the Shadow Cabinet visits Scotland is supposed to be a demonstration of how much better the UK can be by staying together. Ed Miliband’s reasoning is that a border between Scotland and rUK would mean a ‘race to the bottom’ between the two countries, who would come under pressure from ‘powerful interests’ to ‘worsen wages and conditions for everyone else’.
It’s part of Labour’s ‘positive case’ for the union which the party wants to make today, and the reasoning does, if you’re a Labour type, make sense. The only spanner in the works is the policy that he’s announcing, which will hardly set the soul on fire if you’re a Labour type who has been expounding on the evils of these contracts.
Labour would give legal rights to employees to demand a fixed-hours contract when they have worked for the same employer for over six months (although they will not have a right to get the contract they ask for), automatic fixed-hours contracts for employees who have worked regular hours for over a year (unless they opt out), protection from exclusivity clauses or late-notice cancellation of shifts (employers will be forced to compensate staff for this).
This is as far as Labour feels it can go without damaging the labour market, which has demonstrated in the past years the importance of flexibility in keeping people in work when the economy is weak. But it’s not quite a revolutionary trumpet blast on behalf of those who have made the scary zero hours contracts sound like the worst thing that ever happened to workers. If these contracts are so bad, a year working on one before you’re entitled to anything else is still a very long time frothing about in what Chuka Umunna this morning called the ‘tide of insecurity’. Exclusivity clauses were something ministers in the Coalition were looking at too.
Not cracking down on these contracts is perhaps a welcome sign that Labour is realising it can’t, as Dan Hodges warned yesterday, focus solely on what it would do to business without worrying about what its policies would also do to businesses’ ability to employ people. But it’s hardly a great lurch to the left whereby Labour out-lefts the SNP to reassure those crucial working class Labour voters who need convincing of the ‘No’ case in the referendum.
More Spectator for less. Subscribe and receive 12 issues delivered for just £12, with full web and app access. Join us.