The increasing use of “zero-hour” contracts by employers has been topical in recent months. Criticism has arisen because the employee must remain available for work whilst not being guaranteed regular hours and consequentially levels of pay remain unpredictable. As the terms of these contracts can differ greatly, the level of guaranteed work and obligation to remain available for work can vary significantly. Importantly, workers will also need to consider whether their continuity of service is being affected by such arrangements.

The concerns come at a time following release of official estimates by the Office of National of approximately 200,000 workers being employed using zero-hour contracts. Considering the many news stories which have highlighted the wide-spread use of these contracts recently; this figure is now being considered a substantial underestimate.

Among those businesses criticised, large and public organisations such as Buckingham Palace and the Tate galleries have been highlighted for their use of the contracts. The most recent business to come under fire is Sports Direct which is owned by billionaire businessman Mike Ashley. The union Unite has demanded a meeting with Mike Ashley to discuss their concerns over treatment of workers.

Despite these concerns, it is recognised that this type of contract can be beneficial to both employers and employees in terms of the flexibility it can offer and, as such, it is unlikely that there will be any ban on use of these contracts any time soon.

If, as an employer, you currently use zero-hour operating policies in your business, do be aware that Vince Cable has announced that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) is undertaking a review of the use of zero-hours employment following receipt of anecdotal evidence of abuse by employers, including in the public sector, and which may be followed by a formal call for evidence later this year.

Sallie Alderson

Carillion Advice Services