Sharp Rise In Zero Hour Contracts
In response to the sharp rise in zero hour contracts Unions have called on the government to clamp down on them. Official figures show there is now an estimated 1.4 million people employed on zero hour contracts.
Zero hour contacts effectively provide employers with a pool of ‘on call’ workers they are contracts in which employees agree to work as and when required with no guarantee of working hours. A report from the Office for National Statistics said that the majority of the 1.4 million on zero-hour contacts actually received no set working hours or pay.
Zero hour contracts have always been around used as a way to keep staff on when work dried up but we are seeing an increase in their use in an entirely different situation. The Office for National Statistics explains that zero hour contracts are more common in larger companies with both under 25’s and those over 65 more likely to be employed on such contracts; age groups that could be argued to be the more vulnerable groups in society which demonstrates exploitation.
The TUC expressed concern that many workers on zero hour contracts are at risk of being exploited as they are poorly paid and don’t have a regular income. Further to this the average pay for a zero hour contract worker is £8.83 a rate which is a third less than the average for staff on permanent contacts.
Evidence of abuse of zero hour contracts has been seen in various forms. The TUC general secretary has said ‘some employers utilise zero-hours contracts in order to avoid particular employment obligations associated with standard contracts of employment drafting contracts in such a way as to avoid conferring formal employment status like maternity and paternity leave and the right to request flexible working’.
Further abuse exists where employers inform the employees on zero hour contracts at very short notice. While the flexibility suits some employees for others it raises issues around the inability to organise their personal life in relation to domestic duties child care and obtaining a reasonable work-life balance.
Another issue lies with the so called exclusivity clause some zero hour contracts contain. The exclusivity clause in which workers are tied to one employer prevent them from seeking work elsewhere even in the situation that they receive insufficient hours. This results in some employees being unable to obtain a ‘living wage’. While some groups of people want to work flexibly it is vital to make sure it is understood what their contract means.
Employers argue that zero hour contracts offer flexibility this is appreciated but their exploitive and inconvenient nature should be considered as a problem. The TUC general secretary argues that we should replace zero hour contracts with more secure employment and in the meantime the government should legislate to prevent abuse of the zero hour contracts by ‘bad employers’.
Author: Laura Webster