The Government has finally announced its intentions following the consultation on zero hours contracts, which closed on 19 March. It seems it is taking the easy option of going with the most popular suggestion, namely banning exclusivity clauses in zero hours contracts. Employers preventing their staff on zero hours contracts from accepting work from any other employer – and therefore having no ability to supplement whatever hours the employer actually provides with other work - is understandably one of the most criticised aspects of zero hours contracts. 83% of the surprisingly large number of respondents to the consultation paper (apparently 36,000 responses were received) supported a ban on exclusivity clauses in zero hours contracts. The Government has therefore announced that the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill will include legislation banning the use of exclusivity clauses "in contracts which do not guarantee any hours". They will also consult further on what the best mechanism would be to tackle avoidance of the ban and what redress there should be where the law is broken.
The Government's announcement also suggests that it will work with business and the unions to develop a code of practice by the end of the year on the fair use of zero hours contracts, as well as reviewing what guidance already exists for both employers and individuals on their use.
As anticipated, the Government has therefore shied away from trying to introduce a complete ban on zero hours contracts, which will be a relief to the many employers and employees who appreciate the flexibility offered by such flexible working arrangements. The fact that employers will no longer be able to prevent their zero hours staff from accepting work elsewhere should go some way towards protecting the most vulnerable employees. On the other hand, it is not clear how widespread the use of such clauses actually is – Bond Dickinson's own survey suggested that only 11% of respondents used exclusivity clauses. It may therefore be that the practical effect of today's proposed changes (particularly if they will not immediately be accompanied by any effective redress) will be minimal. This issue is unlikely to go away anytime soon.