Zero hours proposals do not go far enough

Zero hours proposals won't deter unscrupulous employers

A proposed government ban on exclusivity clauses in zero hours contracts will fail to deal with the widespread abuse of these and similar contracts.

Business secretary Vince Cable said he would ban clauses in zero hours contracts that prevent workers from accepting shifts with more than one employer.

Prospect legal officer Linda Sohawon said: “The business secretary’s announcement is welcome, but it does not go far enough.

“We also need action to ensure workers have employment protections such as sick pay, holiday pay and redundancy rights. Experience shows that bad employers are adept at getting around laws which protect workers’ rights.

Code of practice

“The government’s proposal to consult further on rogue employers who offer one hour, fixed-term contracts to evade exclusivity is welcome.

“The proposal to work with business representatives and unions on a code of practice on the fair use of zero hours contracts is also encouraging.

"But a code of practice does not have the statutory force of legislation and we are sceptical that a code would deter employers who currently abuse these contracts.”

The Labour party is proposing to ensure that people who have worked continuously on such a contract for 12 months are given permanent contracts and paid if their shifts are cancelled at short notice.

While welcoming this, Sohawon warned that employers would find ways of ending the contract early to prevent workers reaching the 12 months threshold.

“Reps and members should be on the look-out for colleagues on atypical contracts who may be entitled to employee status. Prospect has a questionnaire that will help them establish whether a contract meets the threshold of an employment contract,” she added.

Prospect’s submission to the government’s review of zero hours contracts said they are in widespread use in sectors and types of employment where workers should be on permanent contracts with full employment protection. 

Conference debate on zero hours contracts

At the union’s biennial conference in May 2014, delegates condemned the widespread usage of zero hours contracts, particularly for very young and older workers, trapping them on low pay and with minimum statutory protections. 

Although delegates acknowledged that such contracts can be useful in some areas, they should provide minimum rights to notice. 

“Prospect will continue to bring cases to employment tribunals to establish rights for these workers.

“We will also continue to press employers to give workers on atypical contracts the right to be employed on a permanent or fixed-term contract, but with the full employment protection.”