Zero Hour Contracts Under Scrutiny

Zero Hour Contracts


In recent years, the UK has seen a dramatic rise in the amount of workers employed under zero hour contracts. When used appropriately, this type of contract can generate numerous benefits for both employer and employee. There is a growing sense of scepticism however, that many employers are abusing their positions to acquire cheaper labour at the expense of workers rights and job security.

A consultation by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills was launched back in December 2013 to investigate the prevalence of this type of work. A detailed report is expected in the coming months but, in the meantime, the Scottish Affairs Committee has launched its own report attacking the use of zero hour contracts in the UK.

The report described the increase in the use of casual labour across the UK as ‘alarming’ and that the Government should use ‘all the levers at its disposal to effect a shift in culture’.

It found that 20% of workers were paid less than their permanent equivalents doing the same job and 40% would not receive any notice of employment at all. In addition, 6% of employees would turn up to find that no work was available, whilst 5% were paid less than the national minimum wage.

The findings also criticised the Government for suggesting that zero hour workers could challenge unscrupulous legal action through the courts, describing the notion as ‘expensive’ and ‘fanciful’.

As a means to combat this growing inequality, the report provided a number of proposals:

  • Workers should be compensated for the inconvenience of arriving at work only to find none available.
  • The Government should must make sure that staff who are responsible for administering benefits are aware of the specific problems faced by zero hour contracts.
  • Individuals should be allowed to leave zero hour contracts which do not provide sufficient work without facing sanction for doing so.
  • Zero hours must only be used where the employer can objectively justify their use.

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