Experts welcome ‘bold’ and ‘light touch’ approach to regulating flexible contracts

An upcoming government-commissioned review into modern-day working practices could call for an overhaul of zero-hours contracts.

It is believed that Matthew Taylor, head of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, who is leading the eponymous review, will warn the government that some workers are being exploited by businesses and will call for a right to request fixed hours for those on zero-hours contracts.

This right would work similarly to the right to request flexible working, and organisations would have to treat such requests seriously, giving reasons if they turn them down.

Ben Willmott, head of public policy at the CIPD, welcomed the “light touch” approach to regulating the use of zero-hours contracts. “You don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater,” said Willmott. “We know that, for example, students, people with caring responsibilities, people with fluctuating health conditions – a certain proportion of those cohorts benefit and appreciate being able to work in that sort of flexible way.”

Conor D’Arcy, policy analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said: “Introducing new rights to guaranteed hours for workers on zero-hours contracts would be a welcome move – addressing people’s concerns about job insecurity, while maintaining the flexibility of zero-hours contracts for workers that still want them.

Zero-hours contracts have received a fair amount of attention in the 2017 political party manifestos. The Labour Party has called for an outright ban on the contracts, while the Liberal Democrats said it would introduce a right to request a fixed contract and consult on introducing a right to request more regular working patterns after a certain period of time.

A 2015 report by the CIPD found those on zero-hours contracts were just as happy as permanent employees. Almost two-thirds (65 per cent) of those surveyed said they were ‘satisfied’ or ‘very satisfied’ with their job, and 62 per cent reported they had the right work-life balance.

But more recent studies have promted concerns that those on zero-hours contracts do not fully understand their rights. Research published earlier this month by Citizens Advice revealed that half of those working on zero-hours contracts wrongly believed they were not entitled to paid holiday.

Concerns have also been raised that zero-hours workers can struggle to secure lending, such as for mobile phone contracts, cars and property. In March, Secure Trust Bank launched a mortgage aimed specifically at those without a steady income stream, such as the self-employed. The lender said it would also consider more complex cases, such as those on zero-hours contracts, those who worked multiple jobs and those who received the bulk of their income as a bonus.

Research from the Resolution Foundation also published in March revealed that there are now around 910,000 workers on zero-hours contracts in the UK.

Because of purdah restrictions, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy declined to comment on this story, which was first reported by BBC News.

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