Zero-hours contracts: are they really such bad news?

By Adam Hartley

Zero-hours contracts have hardly been out of the news in recent weeks. The overwhelming majority of the media coverage has been negative, suggesting that zero-hours contracts are exploitative of workers and should be outlawed. The pressure gauge has risen to such an extent that in September business secretary Vince Cable announced that there would be a consultation process to tackle any abuse discovered. In addition to this, the Labour Party has also announced it will be conducting its own review.

But why all this sudden interest? Zero-hours contracts are not a new phenomenon… and, on the face of it, they provide employers with the type of flexibility that the government has been so keen to introduce over past months through a wide range of other employment reforms. In short, they allow employers to maintain a flexible workforce, capable of meeting short-term staffing needs, potentially without taking on many of the obligations that arise under contracts of employment. Arguably, therefore, these types of contracts actually benefit employers more than any other legal proposal in the government’s programme of reform.

However, it appears the issue has come into sharp focus after research published by the CIPD in August indicated that there are around one million people in the UK working under zero-hours contracts, far more than had previously been thought to be the case. This has led to heightened scrutiny of what these contracts are and what impact they have on workers…

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