Are Zero-Hour Contracts Really so Bad?

Are Zero-Hour Contracts Really so Bad?

Recent stories in the media have sought to demonise zero-hour contracts and have suggested that people with zero-hour contracts are exploited in their jobs and finding it difficult to make ends meet.
In the summer this year the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) revealed that a million workers were on zero-hour contracts. This amounts to 3.1 per cent of the UK workforce and is four-times higher than the official estimate.
A bad light has been thrown on zero-hour contracts due to the fact that staff are obliged to work only when they are needed and are only paid for those hours. As a result of this they are also often prevented from carrying out other jobs and are not entitled to benefits.
However a recent study carried out by the CIPD has found that workers on zero-hour contracts are likely to be just as satisfied in their jobs as the average UK employee. In fact workers on zero-hour contracts are more likely to be happy with their work-life balance.
The survey included 2500 zero-hours workers. The CIPD found that 60 per cent of those questioned were satisfied with their jobs and 65 per cent were happy with their work-life balance. This can be compared to other employees with 59 per cent and 58 per cent respectively.
Contrary to popular belief only 27 per cent of those questioned believed that they were treated unfairly against 29 per cent among average British workers.
The institute acknowledged that bad practice exists; however it claims that the contracts have been unfairly demonised and that they provide flexibility that works for both organisations and individuals when used in the right way.
In my experience the flexibility of zero-hour contracts can be beneficial to both employees and companies alike and it is difficult to argue that all zero-hour contracts are bad in light of the fact that most workers on these contracts are happy with their work. However that being said it should not be ignored that zero-hour contracts can be used as a way to exploit workers and there is little way for these workers to seek a resolution.
The institute recommends that rather than restricting the use of zero-hours contracts through regulation poor practice should be stamped out through the adoption of guidelines for employers. These could set out proposed principles and suggest that employers should ensure that the contracts are appropriate for the nature of work involved.
Such principles would include that staff should be allowed to take a job elsewhere if no work is available compensation should be provided for last-minute cancellations and pay should be equivalent to other employees doing similar work.
Labour’s Shadow Trade Minister has gone a step further and said that the party would outlaw the exploitative use of zero-hour contracts if they were elected. This would provide some protection for workers on zero-hours contracts when at present none appears to exist.
Whilst I agree that zero-hours contracts are not as bad as they have recently been made out to be it is still clear that some employers will use them in order to exploit employees with little risk that they will be punished for doing so. Employers should still be allowed to use these contracts to provide flexibility in the workforce but I would agree that workers should be granted some protection by the government introducing legislation to make the exploitation of workers on zero-hour contracts illegal.
If you are currently working under a zero-hour contract and you believe that you are being exploited or otherwise being treated unfairly or you have been dismissed by your employer for any other reason and you consider it to be unfair and you would like to speak to a specialist in unfair dismissal and employment contracts please contact the dedicated employment department at Michael Lewin Solicitors and we will be happy to discuss this with you.
Written by
Anthony Fox


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