Zero hour contracts have been in the news continuously for the past year with the Government, in mid-December 2013, announcing the start of a consultation period on the use and nature of zero hour contracts, taking views from various stakeholders. They highlighted concerns at the use of exclusivity clauses preventing staff from working with multiple employers and the apparent lack of transparency of the contracts from both the employers and employee’s / worker’s perspective.

You can read more about zero hour contracts here – what they are, who is likely to be employed on one and, if you are employed on such a contract, whether it can ever become permanent.

[Article updated 2015]

The Government consultation ran up until March 2014 with over 36,000 people responding. On 25th June Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, announced his intention to introduce legislation that bans ‘exclusivity’ clauses, allowing everyone working on zero hours contracts the right to work for more than one employer (which is especially important if work is not always available from the ‘first’ employer). A full 83% of those responding to the consultation were in favour of banning these clauses.

The legislation will be introduced as part of the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill, which was  introduced to Parliament on 25th June 2014.

Zero hour abuse

The Government, who want to clamp down on workplace abuses by unscrupulous employers, believe that zero hour contracts “have a place in the marketplace” that “offer valuable flexible working opportunities for students, older people and others looking to top up their income and find work that suits their personal circumstances”.  It is believed there are 125,000 workers with contracts with existing exclusivity clauses in the UK.

The TUC General Secretary responded saying that this move “doesn’t go nearly far enough” and called for a complete ban on zero hour contracts saying “the one change that would really make a difference would be for employers to have to guarantee their staff a minimum number of paid hours per week”.

Other commentators have also called for guaranteed minimum hours contracts and payment of the Living Wage.

Vince Cable also announced that he wanted to:

  • Consult further on how to prevent bad employers evading the exclusivity ban, and
  • Develop a Code of Practice on the fair use of zero hours contracts, working with businesses and Unions, by the end of this year

Stop Press:

In March 2015 the Government published draft legislation (the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill which is currently before Parliament) to make exclusivity clauses unenforceable among staff whose have a mixture of low pay and low guaranteed hours of work each week.  An hours and pay threshold will be introduced and we’ll let you know the details when we are clearer!  There is currently no date for the introduction of the legislation.

If you are an Employer and need ongoing professional help with any staff/freelance issues, or a Contractor/Freelancer/Employee with a complicated employment related problem, then talk to Lesley at The HR Kiosk  – a Human Resources Consultancy for small businesses – our fees are low to reflect the pressures on small businesses and you can hire us for as much time as you need.

Please note that the advice given on this website and by our Advisors is guidance only and cannot be taken as an authoritative or current interpretation of the law. It can also not be seen as specific advice for individual cases. Please also note that there are differences in legislation in Northern Ireland.

Photo by Mao Lini