• Government confirms review of zero hours contracts

  • 14 Jun 2013
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There is ‘anecdotal evidence of abuse,’ says business secretary

The government has announced that it is to undertake “a fact finding” exercise into zero hours contracts after reports of their abuse by employers.

The move comes amid growing criticism of their use, and a fortnight after business secretary Vince Cable exclusively told People Management that a review of the controversial employment contracts was imminent.

“In the last decade, there has been a steady rise in the number of zero hour contracts,” Cable explained yesterday.

“For some these can be the right sort of employment contract, giving workers a choice of working patterns. However for a contract that is now more widely used, we know relatively little about its effect on employers and employees. There has been anecdotal evidence of abuse by certain employers – including in the public sector – of some vulnerable workers at the margins of the labour market. 

“Whilst it’s important our workforce remains flexible, it is equally important that it is treated fairly,” he continued. “This is why I have asked my officials to undertake some work to better understand how this type of contract is working in practice today.” 

Zero hours contracts have been criticised because they allow employers to put workers on standby without a guaranteed minimum number of hours or pay.

Official data recently obtained through a parliamentary question showed that the number of people working under a zero hours arrangement had grown to 200,000 between October and December 2012, up from 150,000 in the same period in 2009.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said that as part of the fact finding exercise it would be speaking to a variety of stakeholders, including trade unions and industry bodies representing sectors where the contracts were in common use. 

The TUC welcomed the review, describing zero hours contracts as “exploitative”.

“Employers know they can get away with advertising zero hours jobs because there are so many jobseekers hunting too few vacancies,” said TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady. 

“Young people desperate to gain experience of the world of work are the most vulnerable to this kind of exploitation. Anyone employed in a zero hours way can never be sure how many hours they’ll work or how much money they’ll get in their pay packet which puts a real strain on their already stretched finances and can make organising childcare a logistical nightmare.”

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  • It is not just "vulnerable workers at the margins of the labour market" who are affected by zero hours contracts. I am a University lecturer working part time (hourly paid) although now on a "permanent" contract after qualifying service of 5 years it is zero hours. Each year I am not told until at least September whether of not I will have any work for the next academic year. Although the contract for that year will then run for 9-10 months - I never know until the last minute what, if any, income I will have each year. A very unsatisfactory situation.