This week the UK Government introduced new measures which could have a profound impact on any one working on a zero hours contract. But while this has been welcomed in the main, there are some who feel the new measures do not go far enough.
It is estimated that 1 in 5 employers has at least one employee on a zero-hours contract and until now, zero hours contracts meant that employers were under no obligation to offer work, such as an agreed minimum number of hours each week and conversely, nor has the worker been obligated to accept any of the hours offered.
However, such contracts have been the subject of much criticism since they were first introduced, on account that they effectively tied workers to an exclusivity clause - a practice which Business Secretary Vince Cable said led to a number of “unscrupulous” firms abusing the flexibility offered by the contracts.
What the newly announced changes mean is that workers in zero hours contracts will be able to work for more than one employer and this will directly affect around 125,000 workers throughout the UK. But the figure could be higher than that. Indeed, the Office for National Statistics recently estimated that employers held 1.4 million contracts with workers that did not guarantee a minimum number of hours each week.
Steve Turner, assistant general secretary of the Unite union, argued that zero-hours contracts are “a zero-sum game for workers struggling to get by. The only winner is the employer." TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady went a step further in her criticism. She said: "The ban is welcome news, but it's not nearly enough to really tackle the problem. A lack of certainty is the real issue.”
She added: “The one change that would really make a difference would be for employers to have to guarantee their staff a minimum number of paid hours each week. And, as the economy continues to grow, that would give many zero hours workers struggling to get by a much-needed pay rise.”
Of course, any change to existing employment legislation will have its critics who feel the changes do not go far enough. So it perhaps is unsurprising to learn that 83% of respondents to the Government's consultation on zero hours contracts were in agreement with Labour's call for an all-out ban of such contracts.
But not everyone is opposed to them. There are those who think that sweeping changes – or a total abandonment of these contracts – would go against the very premise behind their introduction in the first place – to provide flexible employment opportunities for workers.
The British Chambers of Commerce director general John Longworth argued that zero hours are “vital for a successful jobs market, but they must be fair and work for all parties.” Whilst the Institute of Directors said it liked the contracts because they helped ensure a "flexible work market," but added that "flexibility must work for both staff and business," and exclusivity clauses should be banned.
Mr Cable stated “this is a perfectly sensible arrangement”, adding they “have a place in the labour market, and offered work to students and older people.”
Much of the criticism against zero hours contracts is down to a lack of understanding as to what the worker's rights are – something which Mr Cable was keen to highlight. And he is right. In fact, when reading about this story, the BBC website states that zero hours contractors “are not entitled to holiday pay” - this is not the case.
According to the ACAS website, workers on these contracts still have the same employment rights as 'regular' workers and are fully entitled to annual leave and other statutory benefits, such as compensation for work-related travel costs.
So what do you think – do the changes go far enough or should zero hours contracts be scrapped altogether?
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