With 5.5 million people in the UK signed to zero-work contracts, there has been much scrutiny over the benefits they bring to both employees and their employers.
There are a number of ways a ‘zero-hours contract’ can be defined.
A zero-hours contract may be used for casual work, where the employer can choose from a pool of available workers as and when they are required.
Typically, such workers are under no obligation to accept work and the employer is under no obligation to provide any.
Alternatively, contracts exist where the employer has no obligation to offer any work in a particular week, yet the worker is obliged to be available and accept whatever work is offered. In the most extreme cases, there may also be an exclusivity clause in the contract, preventing employees from working for others when they need more hours to increase their earnings.
The practice of using zero-hours contracts can work well for both businesses and individuals.
There are many sectors where there is a genuine requirement for the use of zero-hours contracts, including seasonal businesses and businesses where there is variable demand such as retail, tourism and hospitality.
These contracts allow businesses to respond efficiently to changes in their workflow, yet the flexibility they offer companies comes at the expense of the security of its employees.
Zero-hours contracts are also in danger of creating the idea of a “throwaway” workforce that leaves workers with little financial stability.
While zero-hours contracts have been accused of being exploitative, employees on them do have many of the same statutory rights as those on normal contracts, such as holiday pay and minimum wage.
These employment rights offer at least some protection against potential abuse.
An outright ban would most likely result in some firms responding by reducing their employment opportunities altogether.
It is therefore an area which should be regularly reviewed by the Government, with measures in place to mitigate the worst practice.
* Martin Allsopp is president of Birmingham Law Society