Penningtons Manches

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Education Update — May 2014: zero-hours contracts — an update

By Hilary Aldred

The House of Commons recently published a note relating to zero-hours contracts, which underlined that while it was unclear to what extent they were being used, estimates had put the number at slightly more than one million by the end of 2013, increasing to 1.4 million last month. The Higher Education Statistics Agency does not collect data on zero-hours contracts as such, but its figures for 2012–13 indicate that there are approximately 110,000 staff, both academic and non-academic, employed on such contracts.

Opinion on the use of zero-hours contracts is mixed, but they are prevalent in the higher and further education sectors. The House of Commons note does not set out guidance on whether the contracts should be regulated or banned. However, there is likely to be an employer-led code of practice following the consultation, which closed on 13 March 2014.

In general, a contract is one where an employee has no set hours but is paid for the time when he or she is actually at work. This is easy to assess for teaching hours but less clear for other hours worked in order to deliver the teaching. Zero-hours can also, however, refer to a contract for services that offers no continuity of service between short-term employment assignments such as termly teaching contracts. This second type of contract is also common within the higher and further education sphere. In either case the main similarity is that the employer need not provide any work at all to the individual at any time and as such allows the employer the benefit of a flexible workforce…

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