Something or nothing? Government to consult on zero-hours contracts

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Following widespread press coverage over the summer, the business secretary has announced that there will be a consultation on zero-hours contracts and has pledged to address any abuses revealed by this consultation.

Vince Cable’s statement mentions four ‘particular areas of concern’ arising out of an initial review: exclusivity; transparency; earning/benefits uncertainty; and balance of power.

The statement does not mention the wider issue of employment status and it is not clear to what extent the consultation will tackle this. Zero-hours contracts appear to lack one of the essential requirements for employee status — mutuality of obligation — but following the 2011 Supreme Court decision in Autoclenz v Belcher, tribunals are prepared to look beyond the terms of a written agreement to see if it reflects the true nature of the relationship, particularly for roles where there is some inequality of bargaining power between the parties…

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