Zero hour contracts: Due for a major overhaul?

Sports Direct were heavily criticised for its use of zero hours contracts. Image. Billy McCrorie

Sports Direct were heavily criticised for its use of zero hours contracts. Image. Billy McCrorie

Zero hour contracts have been a source of great controversy. Following the massive increase in zero-hour contracts over the last year, critics have suggested that this may be indicative of an exploitative job market whereby employers gain maximum benefit while being able to offer fewer rights. This is simply the result of a difference in title. Although there is no accurate definition of what constitutes a ‘zero hour contract’, a common feature seems to be the uncertainty.

Unbeknown to many, a working individual may be given either a ‘worker’ status or an ‘employee status’, both of which offer a difference in employment rights, including but not limited to: protection against unfair dismissal, time off for emergencies and statutory sick pay.

According to the most recent report by the Labour Force Survey, 903,000 UK workers work under zero hour contracts – a 2.4 per cent increase since this time in 2015. Those who are in a zero hour contract are predominantly young, or working part-time. While there are those who undoubtedly prefer these contracts for the flexibility offered, it seems that there may be some truth to TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady’s comment which said that such contracts are merely “an easy way for bosses to employ staff on the cheap”. TUC analysis shows that those on zero-hour contracts earn £3.80 less per hour than the average worker while receiving no holiday or sick pay.

Sports Direct seem to be the biggest perpetrator of “potentially oppressive practices” and have given into the pressure of offering shop staff the option of a fixed minimum number of work hours per week in an attempt to restore consumer and worker confidence.

If Theresa May is to live up to her promise to give working class families greater job security, then she must tackle zero hour contracts which fail to deliver as staff are unable to sufficiently plan due to the unpredictable income and variable hours offered by employers.

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