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Petition released calling for a ban on the use of these contracts.

Zero-hours contracts have courted controversy since becoming a common recruitment practice across many industries, including hospitality, retail and social care. Continued focus on this area by campaign groups has led to the prohibition of exclusivity clauses and the unveiling of exploitation by large organisations with regards to pay and other conditions in recent years.  

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) have carried out a poll across a breadth of workers which has revealed concerning trends regarding the impact of zero-hours contracts on workers, including:

  • hourly pay is nearly a third lower for workers on zero-hours contracts – with median hourly pay rates of £7.70 before deductions, compared to £11.80 for guaranteed hours workers
  • zero-hours workers are twice as likely to work night shifts – with 23 per cent of these contracts containing night work hours, compared to 11 per cent for guaranteed hours workers.

Following this poll, the TUC has called for zero-hour contracts to be banned as they are “exploitative” and “only good for employers”. There are those on the other side of the debate however, including Matthew Taylor who carried out the independent Good Work review for the government in 2017, who believe that zero-hours contracts are beneficial where they provide both parties with flexibility. Whilst an organisation can use these contracts to structure their workforce, especially in times of uncertain or irregular staffing demands, those who enter into a zero hours working arrangement can do so because it allows them to undertake work around their personal commitments, such as childcare or education.

A petition has been released by the TUC to place further pressure on the government to take action. Based on previous indications, it is unlikely a complete ban will be forthcoming. The government has taken steps to remove uncertainty for those on insecure contracts, however, and a new right to request a more stable contract for all workers was announced in December’s Good Work Plan. This right, set to be introduced in the future, will apply to all zero-hours workers who have 26 weeks’ employment, meaning those who wish for a more stable contract can submit a request for this.

Organisations can continue to use zero-hours contracts where there is a need for flexibility within their workforce. Before using these types of contracts, it is important to consider practical matters such as how shifts will be confirmed, the period of notice to be given to a worker to cancel a shift, and how to cover unplanned absences. Providing zero-hours workers with a clear document setting out their contractual terms and providing guidance on business practices will avoid any uncertainty or misuse, from either party.

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