Zero hours contracts to be abolished?

It was reported in April 2013, by a study carried out by Workplace Employment Relations Board that there has been a dramatic rise in the use of zero-hours contracts for UK workers. Zero hours contracts are an agreement made by the employer and employee that no fixed or guaranteed weekly hours will be worked, but the working week is on a very ad hoc basis. Work is therefore dictated by the business needs and if the employee is not available they can refuse the period of work offered.

There are many different sectors who use zero hours contracts, and employers who may not previously have used this type of contract or done so only sporadically, are doing so now, and more frequently due to the economic climate, meaning that there are more peaks and troughs in work load.

Some employers also believe that these type of contracts are beneficial for employees who have to constantly juggle a home and work life balance so feel that it is a contract which works fairly for both parties. It is thought that they work particularly well for part time workers who may wish to have a second job on a zero hours basis so that they can do extra hours to increase their income as and when they need to.

Of course it can be easy to see the advantages of a zero hours contract and it is rare that our Advice Line has calls regarding any complaints of this type of contract (apart from how to calculate holiday pay!). However recently Labour MP’s and trade unions have raised concerns that zero hour contracts are exploitative and that they can deprive workers of their rights. Employees on zero hour contracts do not necessary accrue continuous service so are unlikely to attain the service needed to bring a claim at Tribunal for unfair dismissal. The trade union also state that some spurious employers use zero hours contracts as opposed to agency workers in order to avoid the Agency Workers Regulations recently imposed.

The Shadow Health Secretary, Andy Burnham, has stated and pledged that Labour intend to pursue the issue of zero hour contracts and to ban the use of them. Whether or not this will occur is a different matter and it would be envisaged that many employers and employers groups would strongly oppose this ban as in the majority of cases, if used fairly and equitably, zero hours contracts appear to work for both parties.