The Office of National Statistics (ONS) has today released new data concerning the number of workers employed under a zero hours contract. In late 2015 they revealed 801,000 workers were on such a contract, constituting 2.5% of the UK workforce. Whilst this reflects a rise of over 100,000 from the previous year ONS statisticians believe the new figures are owed in part to an increase in public awareness of such arrangements, allowing those questioned to correctly identify their employment as being under a zero hours contract. The release of these figures has again prompted the debate of whether such contractual arrangements are beneficial for employers and employees.
A Zero Hours Contract (ZHC) is a contractual arrangement whereby a person is employed without any work being guaranteed. Workers are expected to work shifts offered whilst not receiving regular in-work benefits such as sick pay. Whilst press has been decidedly negative where ZHC are concerned it is worth noting the advantages they may bring. It allows for a flexible workforce, without the need for agency involvement. This can allow businesses to flourish, especially those in the hospitality sector, paying only as supply and demand dictates and without the need to compensate a sedentary workforce. Indeed, in a recent survey two-thirds of those on ZHC did not wish to receive any more hours.
However, this is not to say this arrangement is without its disadvantages. As has been previously mentioned in this blog, despite new provisions introduced in the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015 exclusivity clauses are still a problem. Even with a ban in place, employees have no real power to enforce the provisions of the Act and unless they can take employers refusing to let them take on additional work to employment tribunal. Furthermore, there are stories abound of work suddenly drying up if employees do not take up every opportunity for shifts. With such increased management discretion as to when, and if employees get work there is the risk of an abuse of power to exert greater control over the workforce.
Whilst Zero Hours Contracts are becoming a more common and integral part of the UK labour market, there are still steps to be taken to ensure the ever increasing number of people involved find a fair and beneficial arrangement to ensure a functional and dynamic workforce continues to flourish.