Zero-hour contracts – Zero appeal?


The controversial topic of zero-hour contracts has been hitting the news in recent days, with an increasing number of organisations employing staff in this manner to keep their employment costs to a minimum.

These contractual agreements mean that employees agree to be available for work as and when required. There is no formal structure and they are expected to be on-call and receive compensation only for the hours that they have worked. They receive no sick pay, no holiday pay and have no regular hours, which creates a high level of uncertainty as work can be cut with less than a day’s notice.

Sports Direct have recently come under fire for employing staff under zero-hour contracts, but it is not just the high street retailers employing in this manner and, interestingly, Buckingham Palace also signs staff up to zero-hour contracts. The palace has hired 300 or so summer workers who have no guarantee of regular work (although on the flip side, they could get even more of it than they bargained for) and they are required to gain written permission from them if they wish to work for another employer. Buckingham Palace has defended their employment scheme, saying that although contracts did not guarantee any amount of work, rotas were drawn up in advance, allowing staff to plan their hours. The palace also argues that the contracts cannot be described as traditional ‘zero-hour’ as staff are entitled to benefits such as free lunch, holiday pay, uniforms and other such benefits.

Many believe that the growing use of these contracts is having an effect on society as a whole. The systematic use of zero-hour contracts is causing concern for many as it sends a signal that the company isn’t concerned about holding on to staff, investing in, or training employees. Some even argue that with these contracts in place, employees are incapable of organising a functioning family life.

A number of politicians have been campaigning to put an end to such contracts by proposing that companies introduce part-time contracts with guaranteed working hours. It’s believed that a number of companies are abusing zero-contract hours and that they are being used to undermine employment rules. As their usage grows, we need to consider the underlining problems they can cause employees and the wider impact they have on the economy as a whole. The Government is discussing how we can prevent the abuse of zero-hours contracts and the best way these issues can be tackled. However, this is merely the tip of the iceberg and reforms must go further than this in order to reach a suitable solution.

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