Zero tolerance to zero hours contracts

The Office for National Statistics has underestimated by 50,000 workers the number of people on zero hours contracts, bringing the estimated total in 2012 to more than a quarter of a million workers.

The total number may easily be double that, according to The Work Foundation, that claims at least 400,000 people are employed on zero hour contracts by the public sector alone. Although the number of people on these type of contracts is small, the rise in use of them is not – more than doubling in the last eight years.

In other news, there is much hand-wringing about the levels of engagement, which came in at a lowly one-in-three from the US from Gallup. Apparently, levels are similar in the UK.

Zero hours contracts are just what they say they are – although you have to be ready and available for work at any time as an employee, as an employer, you’re under no obligation to give any work at all.  It’s true that the employee doesn’t have to take the work, but there are tales crawling out of the woodwork of employees being discriminated against if they don’t take work when it’s offered. According to research by the Resolution Foundation  those on zero hours contracts earn less, work fewer hours, and tend to be younger and less well educated than the average worker.

While some companies – Sports Direct, most recently – hail them as essential to business growth in an uncertain market, the devil is often in the detail.  In this case, the detail is in things such as whether workers should be paid the minimum wage while on call at or near the business or, indeed, whether someone on a zero hours contract has employee status.   Those with employee status have some protection in terms of the law – the right not to be unfairly dismissed, maternity right, redundancy rights.  Those who are classed as “workers” – don’t.

I understand that businesses need to be flexible; but to me it smacks of laziness that companies can’t plan their workforces sufficiently well to avoid the use of zero hours contracts, which can hardly be helpful to the UK’s appalling engagement figures.

This type of work is starting to resemble the labourers who turned up at the dock gates in the 1920’s looking for work.  Surely, we’ve come further than this?

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