SCOTLAND'S colleges are under fire for their increasing use of zero-hours contracts.

Figures from a freedom of information request show there are more than 1000 members of staff in the further education sector on the controversial contracts.

The request, from the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) teaching union, also shows that more than 60% of these members of staff are women. Of the 30 colleges that responded to the EIS, 18 said they had some staff on zero-hours contracts.

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The contracts are controversial because they tell staff how many hours they may be required to work, but the employer has no obligation to provide that employment.

They can benefit employees who want flexibility over working patterns and can be used for staff who are working just one or two hours a week.

However, critics argue their use leads to a chronic lack of job security and believe they are spreading from low-paid jobs to the public sector and employers such as the NHS and universities.

Penny Gower, president of the Further Education Lecturers Association, which is affiliated with the EIS, attacked the trend.

She said: "Zero-hours contracts are an abomination in the further education sector, which is already one of the most casualised workforces in Scotland.

"We will continue to fight the use of zero-hours contracts until these discriminatory contracts are eradicated from our colleges."

However, Colleges Scotland, which represents college management, said zero-hours contracts were part of a range of options open to institutions to ensure they were offering students relevant courses.

John Henderson, chief executive of Colleges Scotland, said: "Each college determines the most appropriate terms and conditions for the staff they employ to ensure they can best serve their communities and students."

An EIS report into their findings said most Scottish colleges had given zero-hours contract-holders some of the same employment rights as their permanent employees such as maternity, paternity, pension, holidays and occupational sick pay.

However, the amount of holiday leave varied from 8.3% to 30%, occupational sick pay is not paid by five colleges and there is poorer pension provision identified in two colleges.

The report concluded: "The EIS opposes the use of zero-hours contracts as they create an unbalanced or one-sided relationship between the organisation and the individual contract holder who may be exploited by the organisation.

"Zero-hours contracts rob individuals of full and fair employment rights and prevent them from gaining employment stability or financial security."