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Zero-Hour Contracts

On 25th February 2015 the Office for National Statistics (ONS) published a report on the latest figures on zero-hour contracts.

A zero-hour contract is an employment contract between an employer and a worker, under which the employer is not obliged to provide the worker with a minimum number of working hours. However, the employee is often required to accept whatever hours are offered whenever they are offered.

The ONS report revealed that, although zero-hour contracts are wide spread in the UK, they often provide a complicated and detrimental arrangement for workers.

Many zero-hour contracts do not offer benefits that employees on full time contracts and agency workers enjoy. Many workers on zero-hour contracts are offered unpredictable work patterns and hours by employers, providing an unstable income source. This is particularly difficult for those employees who have children or other caring responsibilities as they cannot plan their childcare or other arrangements ahead of time.

The report showed that around a third of people on a zero-hour contract want more hours than they are given by their employers. Many people are forced to undertake more than one zero-hour contract with different employers in order to increase their income. Employers blame seasonal factors on the levels of work available, and use the contracts to effectively under-employ workers.

Conversely, under some zero-hour contracts, workers are unable to take on other work, due to exclusivity clauses in the contracts. This is usually because employers want workers to be available for work whenever the employer needs them or sometimes because the employer may have concerns about confidentiality if they work for a competitor.

Women, students, the young and the old are most likely to undertake work under zero-hour contracts. These vulnerable sections of the population are arguably more likely to work in this way due to difficulty in finding more secure work but sometimes because the flexibility that can come with zero-hour contracts suits them.

ACAS has published a recent study called ‘Give and take? Unravelling the true nature of zero-hours contracts’. This has revealed a lack of transparency in zero-hour contracts and the arrangements around them. Many workers are unaware that they are on a zero-hour contract, instead believing they have a full time contract due to the hours they regularly work for their employer and their length of service on these hours.

Zero-hour contracts are on the increase in the UK. From October to December 2014 697,000 workers were employed under zero-hour contracts. That makes up 2.3% of those in employment in the UK which is an increase of 19% from the same period in the previous year.

With many household names employing workers on such contracts, there is clearly a long way to go to ensure that they are used fairly and transparently and to ensure that those employed on them are aware of their rights.

For a consultation with an Employment Contract Solicitor call Slater and Gordon Lawyers on freephone 0800 916 9046 or contact us online and we will call you.

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