Zero-hour contracts: their rise… and potential fall?

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Zero-hour contracts have grown in popularity over recent years and have made the headlines over the last couple of weeks. The Office of National Statistics has estimated that around 200,000 staff are now employed in this way (‘Estimating Zero-Hour Contracts from the Labour Force Survey’, July 2013). However, it is thought that this is an underestimate, with the reality being more like one million (Chartered Institute of Professional Development, 5 August 2013).

Vince Cable thinks they are being abused and has announced a review of their use.

So what are zero-hour contracts and why are they used? Zero-hour contracts are generally used to engage individuals on a genuinely ad-hoc, as required, basis, where an individual is only paid for the work actually carried out (usually hourly). As the term has no definitive legal meaning, it can be interpreted differently in practice. It can be used to describe the arrangement whereby a worker is expected to be available for work if called upon by an employer, but with no corresponding obligation on the employer to provide any work, or alternatively it can describe an arrangement where a worker is free to accept or refuse work when offered, so that there is no obligation on either party…

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