• International Workplace
  • 23 May 2018

Call for government to ban zero-hour contracts

New figures published in April by the Office for National Statistics show that UK firms used 1.8 million zero-hour contacts in 2017 and that 901,000 people have a zero-hour contract as their main employment (final quarter of 2017).

The TUC is calling for a total ban on zero-hour contracts, stating:

“Most people are not on zero-hour contracts by choice. They want the same rights, security and guaranteed hours as other employees… Zero-hour contracts are a licence to treat people like disposable labour and the government should ban them.”

The TUC view stems from a poll of workers on zero-hour contracts published in December 2017, which found that:

  • more than half (51%) of zero-hours workers have had shifts cancelled at less than 24 hours' notice;
  • nearly three-quarters (73%) have been offered work at less than 24 hours' notice;
  • only 25% say they prefer being on zero-hour contracts;
  • only one in eight (12%) say they get sick pay;
  • only one in 14 (7%) would get redundancy pay;
  • two-fifths (43%) say they don’t get holiday pay;
  • half (47%) say they do not get written terms and conditions; and
  • just one in 20 (5%) say they have the right to a permanent contract after working the same hours consistently.

It seems, however, that despite criticism from the unions, zero hours contracts can deliver benefits to both employers and employees, with many workers welcoming the flexibility that this type of work allows them.

Director of Employment Relations for Workplace Law, Tar Tumber, supports the view that zero-hour contracts can be a force for good:

“Where these have been used ethically, they have provided a flexible workforce option for employers and flexible working option for the staff.”

Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) guidance suggests when it might be appropriate to use zero-hour contracts, such as:

  • new businesses looking for flexible provision at start up;
  • seasonal work;
  • cover for unexpected sickness;
  • special events where there may be peaks and troughs of demand; and
  • testing a service, where the medium-term outcome may not be known.

The guidance also gives an insight into what the government regards as inappropriate use, for example if the job offered will mean the individual will work regular hours over a continuous period of time. The guidance states:

“Zero-hour contracts are rarely appropriate to run the core business… Many businesses provide a regular service or product and have a broadly predictable timetable or output and so permanent or fixed-hour contracts can be more appropriate.”

The BIS guidance is available here.