York council employs hundreds of staff on short term contracts that could be cut at just a day’s notice, it has emerged.
Figures obtained under Freedom of Information (FoI) laws show that 1,170 worked for the council on short term contracts in the last year. Council bosses say the posts cover everything from maternity leave to short term projects, but others have voiced fears about a more casual workforce.
City of York Council owns Work With York – an employment agency that supplies short term staff. FoI data reveals that in 2017/18, city council employed 1,170 staff though the agency, with 492 people working for more than six months and 140 for more than a year.
The previous year, those figures stood 1,234 in total, with 504 people working for more than six months and 145 more than a year.
One agency worker even stayed with the authority for two years, the information reveals, and council a spokesman has confirmed that both the council and the worker would only need to give one day’s notice to end the contract.
Casualisation of the workforce
For Labour’s councillor Danny Myers, the figures have provoked fears about what it means for the individuals involved.
He said: “Almost 1,200 staff now employed on casual contracts represents a significant proportion of staff working within the council and poses questions about the casualisation of the council’s workforce.
“Whilst for some this type of employment may meet their needs, for others it won’t and will prevent them enjoying the level of security and benefits, like taking out a mortgage, that come with being a permanent employee.”
He called for more information about where in the council temporary staff are employed, and why more than 40 per cent are working for more than six months without the same conditions as their permanent colleagues.
However, the city council said temporary workers are paid the same rate as permanent staff doing the same job, and the single day’s notice is only used when workers are not suitable for the job. In practice, temporary staff will know the end date for the employment when it begins.
In addition, they said that although 140 people were employed for more than a year, those workers may have been in several different roles in the council during that time.
Requirement for temporary staff
Jon Stonehouse, corporate director of children, education and communities, said Work With York jobs cover things like maternity and paternity leave and sickness absence when a service could be directly affected – like in waste services or specific short term projects.
He added: “We are not ‘casualising’ our workforce. Due to the nature of the many varied roles within the council there is and will always be a requirement for temporary staff across the authority.”
Trade union Unison said it has regular talks with the council about things including short term staff, monitoring numbers and challenging things when a temporary job has gone on longer than planned.
The union’s Andrea Dudding said the situation had improved. She said:
We don’t seem to have the issues we had three to four years ago.
It seems the council is managing the engagement and use of temporary workers better, but we have had some situations where we have sought a review in particular directorates, or where short term contracts have run longer than they were originally planned for.
However, she said inappropriately using short term contracts can hurt both the authority and the worker, particularly during restructures or reviews as the authority is investing in the worker, but the worker in turn has their life “on hold” with no idea whether they have a future at the council.
Ms Dudding said: “We are not objecting to the use of agency staff as long as it is appropriate. There are always going to be times when you need to use them, but we don’t want them to be used as a substitute for a permanent post.”
“If you are going to employ someone for more than a year we would ask whether that needs to be a proper role within the council.
“It people know their work is very short term and could change, they know what they are ‘buying into’. That’s what we look to for fairness’.”