22nd September 2017

The end of zero-hour contracts?

Zero-hours contracts or as some call them ‘hire and fire’ contracts, have been a hot topic of debate for years.

Many see them as exploiting workers who have few employment rights and no job security. Representing 2.8% of all people in employment, these ‘casual’ contracts allow employers to hire staff as and when they need them and often at short notice. An individual on a zero-hours contract will be entitled to the national minimum wage, paid annual leave, rest breaks and protection from discrimination.

The number of zero-hours contracts more than quadrupled from 2000 to 2017 but recent figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) indicate a slow decline from 1.7m zero-hours contracts in May 2016 to 1.4m in May 2017.

Rebecca Long-Bailey MP, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy commented: “It is a national scandal that there are 1.4 million contracts that don’t guarantee minimum hours, with people stuck in limbo in insecure work, not knowing how much they’ll earn from week to week, unable to budget for basic necessities and unsure if they can even pay the rent.”

A well-known retailer and large players in the food and hospitality industries recently came under fire after using zero-hours contracts; some have now offered staff the chance to move to fixed-hours contracts but some maintain that it allows them and employees maximum flexibility.

The latest Labour Force Survey (LFS) revealed that the typical profile of people on zero-hours contracts, was ‘likely to be young, part-time, women or in full-time education’ and whilst for many such as students and semi-retired workers this flexibility might work well, for others it can cause stress and financial insecurity and has been shown to affect people’s physical and mental health, especially it seems amongst the younger age groups.

With many European countries having banned or at least severely restricted when zero-hours contracts can be used, it may be that the pressure put on businesses is being felt, but it is unlikely that we will see a total ban on these types of contracts in the very near future. The government’s guidance at present is that ‘they should not be considered as an alternative to proper business planning and should not be used as a permanent arrangement if it is not justifiable.’ It therefore appears that the onus lies with individual businesses to ensure that they strike the right balance between people’s basic employment needs and the need for flexibility when it is required.

If you would like advice on zero-hours contracts or any other employment law-related matter, please contact Andrew Linton on T: 01892 502 323 or via email: alinton@bussmurton.co.uk

Andrew Linton

Andrew Linton
Managing Partner