Council backs ending Zero Hours Contracts

Christopher Jackson
Christopher Jackson

Derry City & Strabane District Council is to call on firms using zero hours contracts to end the practice.

A majority of councillors voted in favour of the move, formally tabled in a council motion by Sinn Fein Councillor Christopher Jackson at the Guildhall last week.

Colr. Jackson also proposed that the council commits itself to doing everything that it can to help make the north-west region a zero hour contract free zone and affirms that such contracts “have no role in stimulating inclusive economic growth and should be banned.”

The motion further proposed that the mayor convene a district-wide forum, including local business leaders, trade unions, employers’ organisations, youth groups, anti-poverty groups and any other concerned sections of civic society, to develop a practical strategy aimed at bringing an end to “these damaging and harmful employment practices.”

Proposing his motion, Colr. Jackson said zero hours contracts have become a reality for many workers, leaving them not knowing how many days, if any, they will be working.

“The majority of people on zero hours contracts were women and young people under the age of 24. In many cases employers are exploiting these workers,” he said.

“The precarious nature of such jobs, the lack of certainty in terms of both wages earned and hours worked in any week, is making it impossible for a new generation of workers to secure mortgages, to pay their bills and to make a decent living for themselves and their families.

“Our young people deserve better,” he maintained.

DUP Alderman David Ramsey said the main issue his party had with the motion was that the council didn’t have the power to change the situation. He added; “I think it is unmannerly of us as a council to ask employers to end these contracts when lots of workers and employees actually ask for them.”

Ald. Ramsey said such contracts helped small businesses and the tourism sector.

Colr. Jackson responded that New Zealand had stopped zero hours contracts and it hadn’t affected their booming tourism industry.

SDLP Colr. Martin Reilly said his party had no difficulty supporting the motion and said a lot of people on zero hour contracts had zero access to healthcare benefits, zero holidays and zero protection and that it was vital the council do what it could to protect workers’ rights.

Independent Colr. Paul Gallagher proposed an amendment that the council also write to the Department of the Economy calling on them to instruct any companies utilising zero hours contracts or paying workers less than the living wage, that they will no longer be eligible for financial support or investment. The amendment backed by a majority of councillors..

Colr. Reilly concurred that the Department should be setting an example and encouraging employers to treat workers correctly, but said it wouldn’t have an impact until a functioning Assembly is re-established.

The amended motion was carried, 28 voting for with eight against.

UUP Alderman Derek Hussey had proposed an earlier amendment but this failed to win majority support.