The use of zero-hours contracts is on the rise but the continued use of contentious employment agreement continues to attract widespread criticism.
A zero-hours contract between an employer and a worker is where the employer is not obliged to provide any minimum working hours, while the worker is not obliged to accept any work offered (1).
Office for National Statistics (ONS) research shows that the number of people employed on a zero-hours contract has risen 20 per cent in the last 12 months (2).
Last year 747,000 employees had the contracts and that figure has now gone up to 903,000, representing 2.9% of all people in employment.
In response to the figures the Trade Union Congress said zero-hours contracts had now become an easy way for employers to hire staff on the cheap (3).
While Unite, the country’s largest trade union, is calling for the British government to follow New Zealand and outlaw what it describes as the ‘exploitative’ contracts (4).
In New Zealand the law banning the use of zero hours contracts was introduced in April this year after parliament unanimously passed a bill, which stipulates that employers must guarantee a minimum number of hours work each week, and workers can refuse extra hours without repercussions (5).
There are said to be a number of benefits to employers in providing employee contracts without guaranteed hours of work. This includes: providing the employee with flexibility to accept or refuse work; can request staff to work depending on the demands on the business at any particular time; and the best workers can be offered permanent contracts after proving their capability.
The retail firm Sports Direct has faced severe criticism for it employment practices and use of zero-hour contracts. It has now promised to guarantee at least 12 hours’ work a week to its store staff and to appoint a workers’ representative to its board to give staff a voice at the highest level (6).
Pub chain JD Wetherspoon has become the latest large employer to announce that it will join Sports Direct and fast-food chain McDonald’s in moving to make staff on zero-hours contracts permanent employees (7).