The use and alleged abuse of zero hours contracts has once again been in the news recently with numerous employers in the retail, catering and leisure sectors indicating that they will be moving away from them to some extent.
In our bulletin just over three years ago, we commented on planned protests outside Sports Direct stores. Since then, the company’s chief executive has appeared before a House of Commons select committee which found that Sports Direct’s working practices “are closer to that of a Victorian workhouse than that of a modern, reputable High Street retailer”. The company then commissioned an independent report which found that their failure to pay the national minimum wage to some staff at their warehouse (to the alleged cumulative tune of over £1 million) was “unacceptable but unintentional”. The company apologised for conditions at their warehouse and admitted “serious shortcomings” in working practices.
The company has now announced that it will abolish zero hours contracts for its directly employed casual retail staff, for whom it would guarantee at least twelve hours’ work each week. However, the warehouse staff are apparently mainly agency workers and so won’t be able to take advantage of this change in zero hours policy.
So, with zero hours contracts on the wane at Sports Direct, Greene King (who will guarantee workers 70% of their usual working hours), Everyman cinema (who will guarantee workers 40 hours each month) and JD Wetherspoon (who have not yet announced precisely what changes will be made), will such contracts be tolerated by the workers of the future?
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), about 903,000 people had a main job which does not guarantee a minimum number of hours between April and June 2016. This is an increase of 21% compared to the same period in 2015 and works out at 2.9% of the employed population (up from 2.4% last year), but may well drop in the next survey period as a result of recent company announcements.
However, although the TUC and the Labour party don’t like zero hours contracts (with both Labour leadership candidates wanting to abolish them), it is often said that workers like the flexibility such contracts give them to fit in working hours around other jobs, responsibilities or leisure interests. According to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, almost 70% of workers on zero hours contracts were happy with the number of hours they work and so (pending a change in Government) zero hours contracts may well be around for a good few years to come if they suit both employers and staff. If this is the case, don’t be afraid to use them where appropriate.