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Zero hours contracts are "abusive and exploitative and should be abolished"

17 April 2014 #Employment

Zero hours contracts allow employers to hire staff with no guarantee of work.  Under such contracts, workers only work as and when they are needed by employers, often at short notice, and are only paid for the hours that they work.

On 19 December 2013, BIS launched its consultation on zero hours contracts, which sought evidence on the use of such contracts and views on possible options.  The consultation closed on 13 March 2014 and the full results are awaited.

In the meantime, a recent interim report issued by the Scottish Affairs Committee (“SAC”) in Parliament in Westminster has raised some very serious concerns about the use of zero hours contracts and has been timed to contribute to the government’s consultation.  The SAC criticises the consultation as being “too narrow” in its focus around the issues of exclusivity and transparency and says that addressing these “will do little to help workers who are exploited by unscrupulous employers”.

Evidence to the SAC suggested that 20% of workers on zero hours contracts are paid less than their permanent equivalents doing the same job, 5% are paid less than the national minimum wage, 40% receive no notice of employment and 6% turn up for work to (having paid for childcare, travel etc) only to find that none is available.  The report concluded that whilst zero hours contracts can benefit both employers and workers, too often the relationship is “unbalanced, leaving the employer with all of the flexibility and few costs and the worker in fear of dismissal and denied access to due rights of employment”

Some of the proposals made by the SAC in its report include that:

  • zero hours contracts should only be used where the employer can objectively justify it;
  • workers should be told from the outset what type of contract they are on and this must be provided to them (in writing) within two months;
  • the employer should be required to give a minimum period of notice when requesting work under a zero hours contract and that workers should not be punished for turning down offers of work made within that period;
  • where workers arrive for work but find none available then the employer should compensate them for the inconvenience

It is understood that the SAC will now pursue the issues raised with a number of employers but what impact its report will have on the outcome of the Government’s consultation remains to be seen. 

Clarkslegal, specialist Employment lawyers in London, Reading and throughout the Thames Valley.
For further information about this or any other Employment matter please contact Clarkslegal's employment team by email at by telephone 020 7539 8000 (London office), 0118 958 5321 (Reading office) or by completing the form on this page.
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