Ed Miliband will promise to put an end to the controversial practise of employing people on zero-hours contracts if Labour wins the 2015 election.
He is expected to announce that all workers will have “a new legal right to a regular contract” after just 12 weeks of employment.
Zero-hours contracts are popular among high-street brands such as Sports Direct, McDonald’s, Argos and Tesco, as well as care home providers.
But critics claim they prevent workers from enjoying job security.
Supporters, meanwhile, claim they provide welcome flexibility for both worker and employer – with McDonald’s going so far as to use it as a recruitment tool for students.
And while the current government has outlawed exclusive zero-hour contracts – where an employee can only work for one employer – it refuses to outlaw them altogether.
Yet when asked by Jeremy Paxman last week if he could live on a zero-hours contract, Prime Minister David Cameron stumbled repeatedly before eventually answering the question to say: “No, I couldn’t live on a zero-hours contract”.
Sitting firmly in the against camp, Miliband is expected to make a statement promising a clampdown, saying: “Labour will legislate for a new principle: if you are working regularly, you have legal right to a regular contract. We will give working people more control of their working lives, we’re going to put an end to exploitative zero-hours contracts.
“The next Labour government will ban zero-hours contracts for employees who are in practice working regular hours. This absolute new legal right to a regular contract will apply to workers after just 12 weeks.”
There has been a meteoric rise in the use of zero-hours contracts – there are now three times as many people on zero hours contracts as there were the coalition came into power – along with the rise of people registered as self-employed, has been sighted as a major factor for the current increase in employment.
The latest employment figures are at 73.3%, the highest since the Office of National Statistics began keeping records.
Yet critics argue that going self-employed and/or accepting zero-hour contracts are last resort options for many people, with Miliband claiming that they leave people “without a reliable income, not knowing from one day to the next how much work will be coming in, unable to plan from one week to the next.”
The issue is a firm divider between business lobby groups and the left, with Neil Carberry, CBI director for employment and skills, releasing a statement on Monday saying: “Zero-hours contracts have helped protect and create jobs through the recession and beyond.
“Flexible contracts provide opportunities for work and help people build careers. To focus on numbers is to miss the point – zero-hours contracts are a small part of the labour market and provide benefits to businesses and workers. They offer a choice to those who want flexibility in the hours they work, such as students, parents and carers.
“Of course we need to address bad practice, but arbitrary attacks on the existence of flexible contracts would cost jobs and damage growth.”
UKIP has also waded into the debate, with its economics spokesperson Patrick O’Flynn releasing a statement today that says: “The spread of zero-hours contracts is yet another symptom of the over-supply of labour for working class jobs because of open door immigration from the EU. Big corporate employers have been able to bid down both pay and conditions because they know that workers can be found from the low wage economies of southern and eastern Europe who will accept inferior terms.
“Unless the established parties end freedom of movement across the EU, which they won’t, they cannot help British workers to higher wages or better conditions of employment. Only UKIP can do that.”