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Zero Hours? Zero Protection? Know Your Rights

Nadine Jenkins - DAS Law

  1. 25 July 2013
  2. Employment
  3. 0 comments
Unhappy worker

Recent figures from the Office for National Statistics have shown that the total number of people working on zero hours contracts increased from 73,000 in the autumn of 2005 to 200,000 in 2012.

However, CIPD research suggests that realistically there could be close to a million zero hours workers in the UK. Trade unions have asked for this kind of contract to be banned, claiming they allow companies to exploit people, and the government has shown concern as to their use.

So What Is A Zero Hours Contract?

A zero hours contract is one where a person is not contracted to work a set number of hours, and is only paid for the number of hours actually worked. These individuals are often classed as ‘workers’, not ‘employees’.

What’s The Difference Between A ‘Worker’ And An ‘Employee’?

There is no comprehensive legal definition of ‘worker’ or ‘employee’ and this has created difficulties. Due to this ambiguity, employment tribunals have developed certain tests to define the difference.

One of the main defining factors is ‘mutuality of obligations’. In a nutshell, if you are a worker, your employer doesn’t have to offer you work and you don’t have to accept, hence there is no ‘mutuality of obligations’. This is because it is often a very casual, ad-hoc relationship.

This is different to being an employee who is contracted for a certain amount of hours per week and is expected to work those hours.

Does A Worker On A Zero Hour Contract Have Less Rights Than An Employee?

Yes. Workers have considerably less rights. As an example, they cannot bring an unfair dismissal claim or claim a statutory redundancy payment.

Workers do, however, have statutory rights - for example, paid annual leave under the working time regulations, the national minimum wage, and protection from discrimination.

How Do I Clarify My Employment Status If I Think I Am An Employee?

There is often a blurred line on whether an individual is a ‘worker’ or an ‘employee’. Whenever there is a dispute about a person’s employment status, the tribunal will scrutinise the nature of the working arrangements.

Even if an individual has a zero hours contract, this will have no weighting if it does not truly reflect the actual working relationship.

So Why Have Zero Hours Contracts Attracted So Much Negative Attention?

Trade unions claim that companies use zero hours contracts to avoid agency working regulations and the rights that employees have. Trying to juggle family life with no certain income and arranging childcare is difficult when you don’t know when or if you will be working.

However, in my opinion the main concern is not the lack of work offered to those on zero hours contracts (CIPD figure shows that only 14% on zero hour contracts complain that they are not offered regular hours), but the fact that in some cases employers will engage someone on a zero hour contact when in reality it is a misrepresentation of the actual working relationship, with many people not getting the rights they truly deserve as employees.

What Is The Future For Zero Hour Contracts?

Trade unions are being very vocal in saying that they want these type of contracts to be banned, and lawyers for many years have wanted clear statutory definitions for ‘employee’ and ‘worker’ under law.

The government hasn’t committed to whether there will be consultation yet; however, Vince Cable has been leading a review on the issue for the government since June and will decide in September whether to hold a formal consultation on specific proposals.

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