What are they?
"Zero-hour Contracts" technically have no legal definition in English law, but are understood to quite simply refer to employment contracts where no guarantee of work is given.
Despite the negative press that appears to surround zero-hour contracts, examples of them can be seen across the entire labour market in sectors involving food and drink, administration, healthcare, social work as well as building and construction sectors to mention just a few. Whilst the seasonal employment sector in particular may be more familiar with zero-hour contracts, there are no specific job titles that are set to zero-hour contracts.
According to the Office of National Statistics, the number of people whose main job was a zero-hour contact in the UK between September 2014 and December 2014, was 697,000. As with many figures surrounding this topic however, there is uncertainty as to whether or not these numbers are accurate. Many individuals may identify themselves as casual workers or agency workers, and not consider themselves to be specifically determined as a zero-hour contract worker.
Why the sudden fuss?
In recent months the media appears to be bringing zero-hour contracts into the public eye, so much so that this topic has been discussed openly as an area for reform, making headlines in regards to the forthcoming election in May 2015. With a variety of newspapers and articles comparing statistics and figures, it has been a hot topic for discussion that has encouraged heated debates, predominantly since the financial crisis in 2008. Inevitably the financial down-turn of the economy was reflected in the availability of jobs, and of the jobs that were available, the hours that were offered appeared to be responding to a nationwide "tightening of belts".
Emphasis has been placed on the argument that zero-hour contracts are not capable of being "lived on", due to the lack of consistency and routine offered to the employees. For some workers there is an evident struggle to get credit from banks, and other lenders, due to the volatile and unpredictable assumption of earnings, as a result of zero-hour contracts. Ed Miliband has said that there is an "epidemic of zero-hours contracts", and Labour has pledged to give workers the right to demand regular work after 12 weeks if they win the election.
The media have portrayed that zero-hour contracts only seem to benefit employers. With casual workers that can meet exact levels of supply and demand, as and when required, this seems an attractive alternative to fixed hour employees. However, zero-hour contracts can also be attractive to the individual as there is no obligation upon the employee to accept the work offered. The most common groups of workers under zero-hour contracts are those aged under 25 or those aged over 65, stereotypically this assumes students and individuals who may be semi-retired and whom may benefit from more informal arrangements. Further still, it tends to be females that are employed under zero-hour contracts, as opposed to males, with many commentators assuming that this is linked to the need for flexible childcare arrangements. Whilst the negatives associated with zero-hour contracts are apparent, there may also be positives to take from a flexible mode of employment.
At Clapham & Collinge we have a dedicated team who are able to provide you with all of the necessary information, support and legal advice, on zero-hour contracts, whether you are an individual or an employer. For more information, contact our Norwich branch on 01603 693500 or our Sheringham branch on 01263 823398.