Zero hours contracts – the rights versus flexibility battleground

It’s been called the ‘gig economy’, which sounds almost fun and for hundreds of thousands of workers it’s a way of life. But even before the election, zero hours contracts were a political issue pitting flexibility against workers’ rights. A government-commissioned review into employment practices is expected to state that workers on zero-hours contracts should be entitled to request guaranteed hours.

The right to ask for fixed hours is supported by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), which represents employers. If this is implemented, it would mirror the rights of all employees to request flexible working, which was introduced in 2014. The CBI said that all employees should receive a written statement that sets out the key terms of their employment and their rights.

Detrimental effects

Of course, zero hour contracts may actually suit some workers if flexibility is what they’re looking for. But they could run into problems when it comes to gaining access to some financial products such as mortgages, credit cards or even mobile phone contracts.

Over 900,000 people are on zero-hours contracts across sectors in the UK such as large retailers, restaurants and hotels. They are subsequently not entitled to guaranteed working hours or sick pay and their employment status is likely to have a detrimental effect on their pension and future financial planning. Often, employees on zero-hours contracts will be juggling several jobs, according to the Office for National Statistics.

For those who believe that zero-hours contracts are exploitative, this proposal is likely to be welcomed. However, it should be stressed that while workers have the right to ask, the employers have no obligation to grant them guaranteed hours.

If your clients employ staff on such contracts, it’s worth keeping them posted on the outcome of this review in mid to late June.

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