Zero Hour Contracts – How Do They Affect You?

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There’s been a sharp increase in recent years in so-called ‘zero-hours’ contracts, as employers try to find cost-effective ways of meeting short-term staffing needs.

Increasingly, many companies in the retail and hospitality industries are taking on staff on ‘zero-hours’ contracts – that is, where people agree to be available for work as and when required, but have no guaranteed hours or times of work. Zero-hours contracts effectively provide employers with a pool of people who are ‘on-call’ and can be used when the need arises.

Generally, as an employer, you are not obliged to offer work to workers on zero-hours contracts – but nor are they obliged to accept any work you offer. It’s important to be aware of the provisions of the National Minimum Wage Regulations, which state that workers on ‘stand-by time’, ‘on-call time’ and ‘downtime’ must still be paid the National Minimum Wage if they are at their place of work and required to be there. Similarly, such time is likely to count as ‘working time’ under the Working Time Regulations if the worker is required to be on-call at the place of work. This means that it’s against the law to ask employees to ‘clock off’ during quiet periods but still remain on the premises.(ACAS)

The BBC reported on the 5th August 2013 that “the Business Secretary Vince Cable fears zero-hours contracts are being abused after research suggested a million people could be working under them.

Mr Cable said he was concerned there was “some exploitation” of staff on the contracts which give no guarantees of shifts or work patterns.”

The BBC went on to provide examples of those whose lives are affected by zero hour contracts.

For almost all of the 25 years that Karen has worked in adult social care, she has had contracted hours and been paid a full-time wage for a full month’s work. But when her local council started using a new private care company, she and her colleagues were transferred to zero-hours contracts.

Overnight, Karen says, their salaries were cut in half to about £300 a month.

Caring mainly for elderly people with dementia and other personal care needs, she says the move impacted her approach to work. “I’d like to think I still did the same job, cared for them in the same way – but I lost that spring in my step.”

“You feel bullied. You start at 06:30am, could work till 11:30am, then be told there’s no more work for you today,” explains Karen. “But if you say you can’t work that day they don’t tend to ring you again because they say you’re not turning up – it makes you feel unworthy.”

Pat is almost 50. With the start of the recession, the telemarketing company he worked for – decided to put its employees on zero-hour terms. It meant his shifts could suddenly be cancelled at just 24-hours notice and it could be weeks before there was more work.

“I’d have the landlord screaming at me for the rent,” he says. “The fridge would be empty. I’d have to lean on friends for help, I’ve slept on sofas – lots of us did. It’s the only way to keep going.”

Rochelle Monte is a care worker on a zero-hours contract and she told Radio 4’s Today Programme that she gave her employer details of her availability and then had to “hope for the best”.

“It can change dramatically over the space of a week. So you might start off a week thinking you’ve got 40 hours, but by the end of the week you could be down to 12,” she said.”

The Independent, on [ 7th November 2013] reported that the Law firm Leigh Day, with the support of campaigns group 38 Degrees, is bringing an employment tribunal case to test the legality of the treatment of the retail sports giant Sports Direct part-time employees regarding their use of the zero hour contract.

Elizabeth George, a barrister in the employment team of Leigh Day, who is acting for Ms Gabriel-Abraham, said: “We are not arguing that employers cannot have genuine flexible contracts, but the contract under which Ms Gabriel-Abraham worked, and which all SportsDirect.com 20,000 part-time employees appear to be working, has no flexibility at all for those people who sign them.

“There was no practical difference between the obligations put on my client by the company and those placed on full-time staff. Casual workers traditionally supplement an employer’s salaried staff, to be called upon when cover is needed or demand is high. In return for not having the security of knowing when you might work you have the benefit of being able to choose when you work. Without that choice you are not a casual worker you are just a worker with no job security.

“The ‘casual’ part-time employees in this case are employees in the conventional sense and denying them their paid holidays, sick pay and bonuses is unlawful.”

Are you on a zero hour contract? Tell us how it affects your life.

Would a contract with fixed hours improve your life? Share your views.

Are you denied paid holidays or sick pay? Tell us your story.

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