11/02/2014 - Zero Hour Contract Consultation

Vince Cable has ruled out a ban on zero hour contracts. He launched a consultation in late December and Unions and others have till 13 March 2014 to submit proposals. Proposals can be submitted onlne.

Solidarity opposes any use of zero hour contracts. By offering work only when the employers needs them, they are a new form of exploitation, taking advantage of workers in a difficult labour market.

The uncertainty created by zero hour contracts makes financial planning by employees difficult. It also encourages “sharp” employment practices. For example, without fixed hours, workers are less likely to speak up for their rights or join a union. A lack of training and a "casual labour" attitude can also restrict improvement and promotion leaving people stuck in dead-end jobs.

Solidarity recognises that the ConDem government is not going to outlaw these contracts. We need to look, therefore, at what mitigation of their effects could look like.

Professor Kim Hoque comments:

“Falling short of a total ban, there are a number of steps Cable could (and arguably should) take. For example, the most recent in-depth research from the CIPD shows that 40 per cent workers on zero hours contracts had been informed only very shortly before starting work that a shift had been cancelled, with a further 6 per cent having been told their shift was cancelled just as it was about to start. This is a worrying practice, and steps should be taken to contain it. At the very least, the government should adopt the CIPD’s recommendation that compensation is provided in instances where work is cancelled at very short notice.

“There is also evidence of some zero hours contract workers being held to exclusivity clauses. These are hard to justify in most situations, and one would hope Cable will heed calls for them to be outlawed.

“Equally worrying is the considerable confusion among employers about the rights zero hours contract workers are entitled to. For example, just 31 per cent of employers in the CIPD’s research report that zero-hours contract workers are eligible for statutory redundancy pay. This is concerning given that almost two-thirds of employers classify their zero hours contract workers as employees, who automatically qualify for statutory redundancy pay after two years’ service. The CIPD’s research also shows that more than half of employers mistakenly believe that that zero hours contract workers are not entitled to statutory sick pay. Clearly a lot needs to be done to educate both employers and zero hours contract workers themselves to ensure that they are fully aware of their statutory rights and obligations, as well as more stringent requirements being placed on employers to provide clear and unambiguous details to zero hours contract workers with regard to their rights.

“As a further potentially potent measure, Ed Miliband several months ago recommended that people who have worked regular hours on a zero-hours contract for 12 weeks become contractually entitled to those hours. There is little justification for employing people on zero hours contracts in instances where they are, to all intents and purposes, regular employees. Miliband’s recommendation would outlaw the practice of employees being employed on zero hours contracts in instances where their working pattern implies they should be on a more conventional contract.”

Professor Hoque has raised some key areas of concern. Solidarity will be making a submission to the consultation to suggest ways in which the rights of employees can be protected.