Zero Hours Contracts along with Payday loans has attracted immense media attention in recent years and they have become akin to Public Enemies no 1. Since the recession hit the UK, the economy has become increasingly defined by insecure and temporary employment. The TUC recently said that about 4%, or 1 million, jobs are now based on zero hours contracts
The recent roundtable meetings of leading industry thinkers and policy makers proposed a Code of Good Practice for this industry, including the abolition of exclusivity clauses, and very recently Vince Cable on behalf of the Coalition Government stated that, an outright ban on exclusivity clauses is planned. An exclusivity clause is one where an employee in not allowed to seek a second job to supplement their first zero hours contract job, therefore giving that employee zero flexibility and security.
Last week, the UKIP leader Nigel Farage was reported as having said he wanted to tackle this issue, not by an outright ban but by a rigorous code of conduct employers would be made to comply with.
Now Ed Miliband for labour has joined the debate. In a recent meeting at Motherwell, in Scotland, whilst speaking on behalf of the pro-Union side of the independence debate, he has promised legislation to stop what he has termed an “exploitive practice”. Ed has been critical of these contracts in the past but now his words are seemingly going to turn into policies (if elected in 2015).
He says that zero hours contracts offer maximum flexibility to the employer but minimum security for a worker.
Some of his key measures include:
Workers can demand a fixed hour’s contract after working, with the same employer, regular hours over a period of 6 months.
Such fixed hours contracts are automatically awarded, after a period of 1 year with regular hours with the same employer, although workers can opt-out of this.
Exclusivity clauses, cancellation of shifts without offering compensation, and asking workers to make themselves available all hours, at short notice, are also going to be legislated against.
To add some balance to the discussion it must be recognised that for some workers a zero hours contract is beneficial to themselves, but for the majority this is not the case.
The whole question of zero hour’s contracts and their enforcement is plagued with difficulties for a number of reasons. Young workers, many in their first job, have this type of contract. Do they have the will and experience to go head to head with a powerful boss? Add to that, the possibility that to get around this legislation a 5 month contract might now be offered or finishing staff just before the twelve months is up, might possibly be used by less altruistic employers.
I can cite an example of the abuse of this type of contract, from my own circle of family and friends.
The person in question works for a national company and is expected to attend for work any time and at any place, with minimal notice. Recently the person was asked to start a shift at 06:00 at a place which involved a drive of about 15 miles.
Having risen at 05:00, when en-route they received a phone call cancelling the shift and telling them to go back home. No compensation, no apology and no thanks. And this was for a minimum pay, zero hours contract!