The political clamp down on zero-hours contracts: who will be the last man standing?


With the elections looming, I am sure that employers are keeping their ears to the ground regarding the proposals for change in relation to zero hour contracts. I know first-hand that this is a major concern for employers as a lot of my clients have already contacted me requesting guidance on what options will be available to them if the proposals are passed as law.

For those of you who are not familiar, a zero hour contract is a type of employment contract which allows employers to recruit employees on a casual basis, giving them the flexibility not to guarantee any hours of work on a week by week basis. The beauty of these for employers is that they can ask employees to attend work, often at short notice, to cover absences, holidays and any busy periods on an “as and when” required basis.

For most employees, this is a form of employment and having a job is better than having no job. However, a major pitfall of zero hour contracts is that there is no regularity of work and therefore no guaranteed income, which is not ideal in this day and age.

The main proposal which I can see being a major issue for a large number of employers is that put forward by the Labour government who want to give employees on zero hour contracts the right to have a permanent contract after 12 weeks of continuous work. The reasoning behind this is to prevent the exploitation of zero hour contracts so that employees are treated fairly by their employers, with a view to allowing financial stability for employees and their families.

This is obviously good news for employees; however, for those employers who use zero hour contracts, contingency plans may have to be put into place to deal with the changes if the proposals are passed as law.

If you are an employer who relies heavily on the use of zero hour contracts, then my advice at this stage is to review you staffing requirements and consider if you genuinely require employees on zero hour contracts.

It may be that if your work is seasonal, then a fixed term contract for the busy period where you can guarantee a specific number of hours per week is better suited to you. Also, if you have a zero hour contract employee that is working regularly, then consideration should be given as through custom and practice, this employee will be deemed to have inherited those regular hours and an implied contract for those hours will be in place regardless of what their contract actually states with regards to their hours of work.

My personal view is that the proposals, if passed, will only effect those employers who use zero hour contracts in the wrong situations. Yet, for those using them correctly, realistically, the proposal should not impact them as the relevant work is likely to last less than 12 weeks.

Employers should not panic too much at this stage as the proposals are not yet law and talks with regards to changing the legislation in relation to zero hour contracts has been on the agenda for quite some time now.
At this stage, employers just need to be aware of the proposal and advice should be taken if you are unsure whether you are using zero hour contract in the right circumstances, so that you can be pointed in the right direction.

Nitu Patel

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