Union deal to reduce Whistl’s use of zero-hours contracts
UK union Community said yesterday it has agreed a new pay deal with postal challenger Whistl that will cut its use of “zero hours” contracts. Whistl, formerly known as TNT Post UK, is the biggest rival to Royal Mail’s end-to-end mail delivery business, though it remains relatively small by comparison, its plans to grow to a 20,000-strong work force in the next few years.
The company’s wage levels have been one factor within demands by Whistl’s critics for regulator Ofcom to impose conditions on the company, to level the playing field with Royal Mail’s universal service.
MPs yesterday called Whistl’s use of zero hours contracts “disproportionate”.
Zero hours contracts are employment contracts in which workers are not guaranteed an amount of work, but are often restricted from working for other employers.
Under the new deal with Whistl, employees on zero hours contracts will be offered new contracts including guaranteed hours after six months of service, the union said. Guaranteed hours will be based on hours worked in the previous 12 weeks.
Community said its deal with Whistl will be backdated to January 1. The agreement was backed by 85% of the union’s voting membership.
The union said it will increase the number of staff able to earn a living wage, and that the company had committed to work with the union toward all employees earning a living wage.
Community’s general secretary, Roy Rickhuss, said: “The recognition by Whistl management that it needed to move away from workers on zero hour contracts and work towards implementation of a living wage is a major breakthrough. This deal is a big step towards our objective of securing a living wage for all Whistl employees, which we will continue to pursue.”
Community, which has been representing Whistl/TNT Post UK workers since 2011, claimed in late 2013 that it represented 80% of staff in depots and up to 90% of those in the ‘end-to-end’ business.
The union said its new deal with Whistl was agreed ahead of the report issued by MPs yesterday, which among other points reviewed concerns about the company’s employment practices.
The report from the House of Commons Business, Innovation and Skills Committee said information from Whistl stated that 48% of staff were on zero hours contracts. The Committee noted that the new Community agreement will provide fixed-hours contracts after a probation period.
Staff will be able to choose to stay on zero hours contracts for the flexibility, the report said.
“Not wholly proven”
The MPs concluded that claims by Royal Mail about Whistl’s treatment of staff were “not wholly proven”, but did state the view that Whistl’s use of zero hours contracts was “disproportionate”. The MPs also recommended that Ofcom be given the remit to monitor labour costs and conditions in the postal sector.
Community said it was looking “carefully” at the MPs’ recommendations, but Rickhuss said the union’s belief was that the best way to improve employment standards was through union negotiations.
“We would hope that MPs and any future government would wish to encourage further partnership working between companies and unions in the sector, irrespective of the role of the regulator,” Rickhuss said.
“Throughout 2015 Community will continue to work closely with Whistl, our members and others to consolidate and improve Whistl’s position within the post and parcel sector and to ensure that our members are fairly recognised and rewarded for their part in the company’s ongoing success.”
Community, which raised concerns with the Trades Union Congress about fellow union CWU calling for a boycott of TNT Post UK, said it will also be holding discussions with the CWU so both the unions can work to ensure good employment standards in the UK post and parcel sector.