After months in which zero-hours contracts have hardly been out of the news (see our previous posting for some examples) we finally have a clear policy announcement, flagged by Vince Cable in Monday's speech to the Liberal Democrat’s annual conference.
Details of the consultation and an official launch date will be announced later this year. The decision to consult publicly follows a BIS review over the Summer which we are told identified four areas of concern: imposing exclusivity on a worker without a guarantee of work, the lack of a legal definition, uncertainty of earnings and the sometimes unequal balance of power between employer and worker. It has been taken in conjunction with a direction to the Low Pay Commission to work with the Government to define the economic conditions which would permit more significant increases in the National Minimum Wage in the longer term than the modest rises that will take effect next month.
Last week the Labour leader Ed Miliband set out his stall on zero-hours contracts in a speech to the TUC conference. Using more robust language that the Government has chosen, he committed his party to banning these contracts if they require workers to be available without any guarantee of work or tie them to one particular employer. He also proposed outlawing their use in place of a permanent contract for workers who in fact work regular hours.
It is not going to be easy to devise an effective way to regulate these contracts, at least without a lot of unintended consequences. But it seems a political consensus is emerging that something should be done, even if there is no agreement at the moment on what that might be.