Jobs: So called zero-hours contracts are a ‘cause for concern’

Paula Whelan, of Shakespeares
Paula Whelan, of Shakespeares
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Employers need to be more proactive when it comes to communicating the terms and conditions of zero hours employment contracts so workers understand their rights and what is expected of them.

That’s the view of an employment law partner at a regional law firm who says the use of such contracts, when workers are kept on standby and called if needed, is growing and their use needs “urgent clarification” as the summer hits full swing.

Business secretary Vince Cable has called for a review of the situation. There is a fear that some employers may be discriminating when they allocate work.

Law firm Shakespeares says pubs and restaurant businesses are adopting ‘zero-hours’ employment contracts to ensure they have sufficient staff on their books to meet demand during the summer.

Paula Whelan, employment law partner at Shakespeares which has offices in Milton Keynes and Newport Pagnell, said: “Although ‘zero-hours’ contracts suit many employment situations there is often an ambiguity around what these types of contracts actually mean for the employer and employees, and Vince Cable is aiming to clarify matters.

“Concerns about ‘zero-hours’ contracts stem from having workers on ‘standby’ to cover busy trading periods, which may make the system susceptible to abuse. For example, if the same few employees are used each time to cover the additional shifts, the system is no longer fair to everyone and this could potentially leave employers exposed to the risk of a discrimination claim.

“To minimise this risk, it may also be wise for employers to clear workers who have refused shifts on more than three occasions from their books and to notify them in advance that this will determine whether they get future work. They should also aim to manage staffing arrangements closely to ensure shifts are rotated appropriately.”

According to Shakespeares, ‘zero-hours’ contracts are appealing to both workers and employers because of their flexibility. Importantly, they also extend workers with certain employment rights, such as paid holiday and redundancy rights, - that do not apply to casual workers.

Paula Whelan added: “In today’s economic climate, it isn’t viable for employers to employ all staff on permanent contracts with set hours, and that’s why ‘zero-hours’ contracts have become more popular. As long as the employer has well-managed systems in place to support this type of contract, there is no reason why they can’t work for everyone.

“Employers also need to be more proactive about communicating the terms and conditions of such contracts at the outset to ensure employees understand their rights and what is expected of them.”

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