COUNCIL chiefs have been blasted for continuing to employ staff on zero hours contracts.
A Freedom of Information request shows the authority currently has more than 100 employees retained under this controversial condition of service.
This is despite the practice coming under continued attack by senior Labour politicians whose party runs the town hall.
Wigan’s Tory chief Michael Winstanley, who found the surprise figures, today charged town hall bosses and the ruling Labour group with “the most shocking hypocrisy.”
But local authority bosses insisted it was now on target to end all zero hour council staff contracts by the end of this year and accused the former Mayor of “misunderstanding” how it operates.
Ex-Orrell councillor Mr Winstanley - a former leader of the opposition - insists that his revelations leave the town hall “in no position whatsoever” to lecture private industry on the need to adopt more socially-acceptable employment practices.
Six months ago the council was on record spoke out publicly about how it was a “responsible employer” that was avoiding appointing staff on such terms of employment.
Chairman of the Wigan Conservative Federation Mr Winstanley said the figures “made a complete nonsense” of Labour calls on private industry to end the increasingly stigmatised employment practice.
He added: “These figures expose the hypocrisy that lies at the heart of the Labour Party campaign against zero hour contracts.
“I was genuinely shocked by the number of council employees that were employed on zero hour contracts.
“The way that Labour councillors and our local MPs have been attacking private employers I thought that they would be whiter than white and not have anyone on a zero hour contract.
“It would appear that once again the Labour Party says one thing in public and does something different in private.
“Still we shouldn’t be surprised at their hypocrisy because they have had many years’ practice so what gives them the right to lecture private employers on how to run their business when they are doing exactly the same?”
Mr Winstanley said that he hoped that the borough’s MPs would mount “just as strong an attack on the council” as they did in support of striking Hovis bakery workers during the recent bitter zero hours dispute at Allied Bakeries in New Springs.
Council assistant director for human resources Sonia Halliwell said that ensuring its employees are treated fairly was “extremely important” as shown by the introduction of the Living Wage pay scale for lowest-paid employees.
It had also made a commitment to remove all zero-hour contracts by the end of this year.
She said: “Good progress has been made so far, with contracts reduced from 132 last September to 105 today.
“But we recognise there’s still work to do, but we’re confident we’re on the right track.”
Cabinet member for customer transformation at the council Coun Terry Halliwell said that a typical zero-hour contract provides no holidays, reduced pay and no career development.
But the council’s version provided all of these...including equal pay and access to internal vacancies.
He said: “We recognised that the use of these contracts do not provide continuity for the employee or sustained planning for the organisation and that is why they will be removed by December.
“Mr Winstanley once again demonstrates his lack of understanding for important matters concerning the running of the council, but it may explain why he and the Conservatives were rejected at the ballot box and is no longer a Wigan Councillor.”
Wigan MP Lisa Nandy, who raised the Hovis Zero hours strike in Parliament and joined the picket lines, said that Mr Winstanley had “completely missed” the point.
She said: “Zero hours contracts have existed for centuries but the problem arises when they are exploited by employers in place of permanent, full-time contracts.
“I have been working with the Council and local businesses for the last two years to crackdown on this type of exploitation across Wigan.
“I welcome Michael’s belated interest in workers’ rights and look forward to him asking the Prime Minister why he still refuses to back Labour’s promise to ban exploitative zero hours contracts. They have caused misery for far too many people for too long.”