Labour’s biggest union donor ‘used zero-hour contracts’
02 April 2015
Ed Miliband suffered a damaging blow today as Labour’s biggest union bankroller was caught in a storm over allegedly using “zero-hour” contracts.
Hours before the TV debate between party leaders, Mr Miliband was hit by the row over claims the Unite union was using zero-hour contracts despite publicly campaigning against them.
Unite was accused of hypocrisy after a lecturer, seeking to blow the whistle on the union’s employment practices, took his case to a tribunal.
The union denied employing tutor Martyn Reuby, a Unite member for 42 years who worked at several colleges, or using zero-hour contracts which it has condemned as “exploitation”.
But in a humiliating ruling for Unite, which has given millions to Labour, it was found to have employed Mr Reuby. The judgment emerged a day after Mr Miliband put banning the vast majority of zero-hour contracts at the heart of Labour’s General Election campaign.
Amid accusations that dozens of its MPs and town halls had employed people on zero hours, Mr Miliband was hit by more controversy when one of his big name business backers admitted employing unpaid interns in the past.
Designer Wayne Hemingway was challenged over a 2013 advert placed by his company for a 20-hour-a-week internship for “expenses only”.
“We have changed, so what?” the founder of fashion brand Red Or Dead told the BBC. “We realised it was wrong and we changed two years ago.”[How convenient!]
He was one of 100 signatories — drawn from a cross-section of the country — of a letter endorsing Labour’s plans to crack down on zero-hour contracts and “put working people first”. Mr Miliband has condemned unpaid internships as “exploitation” and Labour has called for a four-week limit on them to prevent young people being exploited.
Mr Hemingway told the Standard he now paid wages to long-term interns but still gave expenses only, such as travel and meal costs, to college students on work experience.
Meanwhile the employment tribunal’s decision over Unite — which the union says it is appealing — paves the way for Mr Reuby, 59, to bring a whistleblowing claim. More than 100 other tutors on the union’s £2.3 million-a-year training programme may be affected by the ruling.
In submissions to the tribunal Mr Reuby, who ran courses at institutions including Lewisham College and Sussex Downs College, claimed he was sacked after expressing his views about Unite using zero-hour contracts and the denial of basic employment rights for tutors. Unite had claimed Mr Reuby was self-employed, meaning he would not be able to bring a whistleblowing claim.
But Croydon employment tribunal ruled that he had been engaged on a series of short-term contracts by Unite, rather than the various colleges where he ran courses for the union. Mr Reuby’s lawyer said this meant he was “effectively” on a zero-hour contract.
Mr Reuby, 59, said: “It is good news – especially as I have been a union member for 42 years and I never ever thought I would be taking my union to court. It is hypocrisy because effectively what they were using was zero hours contracts through the back door.”
His lawyer, Jahad Rahman, of Rahman Lowe Solicitors said it was a “victory for common sense” as Mr Reuby had satisfied the minimum requirements for “employee” and “worker” status.
He said: “These were all factors that were consistent with an employment relationship with Unite.
“The tribunal found that my client was engaged on a series of short-term contracts that were effectively zero-hour contracts as they did not impose an obligation to offer any minimum working hours.
“There’s a moral as well as legal issue here because workers should not be denied basic employment rights. Unite has openly campaigned about the use of zero hour contracts, which provide far fewer benefits such as holiday pay and pension, yet there is evidence in this case that tutors employed by Unite and other colleges worked under zero hours contracts. My client was dismissed without any notice. He received a P45 in the post. No fair process was followed.”
A spokesman for Unite said: “Unite does not use zero-hours contracts and it is misleading to say so. The tribunal did not find that Mr Reuby was employed on a zero-hour contract, but rather he was employed on a series of short-term contracts.
Patria will outlaw all exploitative zero-hours contracts, including unpaid internships.
Unlike the odious Labour Party and its hypocritical donors, Patria believes in fairness at work.