Employers should not be afraid to offer so-called Zero Hours contracts and employees should not fear the worst.
Among the key facts that need remembered during the current General Election debate are:
• Zero Hours contracts do not alter any basic rights, protections and benefits.
• All workers are entitled to the National Minimum Wage.
• The contracts can offer workers ‘worker’ status or ’employee’ status depending on the detail. Workers have rights, such as statutory annual leave entitlement and protection from discrimination.
• However, it takes employee status to get some other rights, including statutory sick pay and the right to request flexible working. Zero-hours contracts are more likely to include a break in the contract, if there is no work done for a full week.
• These additional rights are achieved on an ‘accrual system’, and include entitlement to claim for unfair dismissal, to maternity pay and leave, to ask for flexible working, to statutory minimum notice periods, and to redundancy payments.
• When considering travelling costs for workers, such as carers who visit patients, the Working Time Regulations (WTR) come into play. Travel time counts towards working time and working time is covered by the National Minimum Wage (NMW)
In the UK, taking a job with an employer involves some fundamental rights that are not affected by Zero Hours Contracts. However, other rights that are accumulated over time in a job might take longer to accrue under these arrangements. If the contracts are properly managed and monitored they can work well for both parties.
The General Election debate is demonising employers who operate these legitimate and flexible arrangements. Zero Hours contracts can be used to create a pool of workers who are ‘on call’ – for example, for unexpected surges in work, to cover for specialist staff who may be on leave or ill, or for work such as restaurants planning for a wedding party.
However, if the contract provides that the worker must work a fixed number of hours, must be available for work whenever they are offered it, and cannot therefore work for anyone else too, or if the worker has a reasonable expectation of regular work and if the organisation exercises a high level of control over the individual when they are working, this can mean that they are employees, with full employee rights.