Food focus — rights of ‘casual’ workers

By James Kidd

The use of zero-hours contracts are on the rise in the food industry, both in the food service sector and in food and drink manufacturing. Unions have recently criticised this as a means by which businesses press workers into accepting longer hours and lower pay, and in December 2013 the government launched a consultation on the use of zero-hours contracts. A zero-hours contract is a type of contract whereby workers agree to be available for work but with no guaranteed hours. Such contracts are used where flexibility is needed to meet short-term staffing needs without taking on the obligations associated with contracts of employment.

Under these contracts, which are increasingly being used in the food sector (most notably in recent times by Burger King, which is believed to engage 20,000 workers on this basis), individual workers agree to be available for work ‘as and when required’ but have no guaranteed hours or times of work and are paid only for work done. This gives companies a pool of people who are ‘on call’ and can be used only as and when the need arises…

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