Since Ed Milliband’s speech to the TUC, there has been a lot written about zero-hours contracts. The Unite union estimates up to 5.5 million workers are employed in this manner. Business Secretary Vince Cable said he feared that these contracts were ‘being abused’ after research suggested a million people were working under them. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development found that 4% of the UK workforce were engaged under such contracts, after surveying 1,000 businesses.
Employment Partner Kate Fretten says, “Although the contracts comply with the terms of the Employment Rights Act 1996, for many workers this can mean no wages at the end of the week.” Zero hours contracts mean that instead of working a specific number of hours a week, workers must be ready to work whenever they are asked. In some industries workers on zero-hour contracts agree to work on a weekly or monthly rota, but in other sectors – particularly retail – workers may be called and told to come into work having been given no previous notice. If an employee takes a break or is made to wait on work premises he/she must be paid. If they wait at home for a call to come into work only the hours on the job qualify for payment. The national minimum wage must be paid but the employer is not obliged to offer sick leave or holiday pay. Zero-hours contracts are particularly prevalent among young workers.
According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, firms in the voluntary and public sectors are more likely to use zero-hours contracts than those in the private sector. Employment partner Kate Fretten says, “There may be a case made for using these contracts to cater for seasonal peaks and troughs – eg- tourism, Christmas etc. or for people looking for part time work to supplement their household income. Anyone concerned about being asked to sign a zero hours contract should seek advice before doing so to understand the full implications.”