A Hovis bakery strike has shed light on the practice of zero-hours contracts, whereby workers are “on-call” as opposed to having fixed hours and must take work when they are offered it.
Workers at the Hovis bakery in Wigan voted last week to take strike action against the replacement of permanent workers with lower paid agency workers on zero-hours contracts.
Geoff Atkinson, regional secretary at the Bakers Food & Allied Workers Union (BFAWU), said that the Wigan workers were determined not to let the company “set precedents, undermine current terms and conditions, create a two-tier workforce and leave a poor legacy for subsequent generations of people who may be employed at Hovis in the future”.
Statistics as unsure as the hours
Doubt has also been cast on the current recorded numbers of workers on these contracts.
While the House of Commons says only 3-4% of the UK workforce has these insecure contracts, within the hotels and restaurants sectors this figure reaches up to 19% and is noted as rising within health and education to 13% and 10%, respectively.
Yet the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) has admitted that its figures are likely to be lower than the reality due to a flawed methodology. Currently the data is collected by asking employees what contract they work under, yet employees may not always be fully aware of this official terminology.
The ONS was forced to increase its previous estimates by 25% to 250,000 workers after the Guardian newspaper revealed Sports Direct, McDonald's, Buckingham Palace and others were employing a good chunk of their staff under these contracts.
The ONS plans to address this issue in a large-scale business survey that will be conducted this autumn and repeated on a quarterly basis. The results of this first enquiry will be published early next year.
Premier Foods response
Hovis’ owner, Premier Foods, released a statement in response to the action: “as a matter of principle, we have moved away from the use of zero-hours contracts and currently have no zero-hours contracted employees at the company, including at our Wigan site”.
“We very much hope to resolve the issue at our Wigan bakery through further dialogue with our employees and without the need for strike action which would be damaging to the longer term interests of the site,” it added.