What is a zero hour contract? Should I agree to a zero hour contract? How will it benefit me? These are all questions you may want to know before signing up to a contract of this type. Many agree to work under zero hour contracts without knowledge of what they actually are and the possible implications they may have on their employment.
Why do we have zero hour contracts? Employers use these to meet demand depending on how busy they are, although it is speculated that the real reason is due to the lesser rights workers have compared to employees.
An estimated 1.7 million contracts have zero hours assigned to them in the UK. Zero hours meaning there is no mutuality of obligation, the employer does not have to provide you with work, nor do you need to accept work that is offered to you. This may sound appealing, but that also means no minimum hours per week, so no way to forecast how much you will earn. This is the biggest issue with contracts of this type – many of us cannot afford to be without a predictable income, nor afford to be able to be without hours at work depending on the needs of the employer.
Being a zero hour worker means you’re classed as a ‘casual’ worker by your employer, and therefore do not enjoy the same rights as an employee. However if you are working under a zero hour contract but get consistent hours each week, and can’t turn down hours without easily then you may be an employee, employment tribunals look at the actual situation – not just what is stated in the contract. Zero hour workers are still entitled to minimum working wage and statutory leave despite being classed as casual workers, this is due to the Working Time Regulations. However most zero hour workers will receive no sick pay, again enforcing the lack of financial stability these contracts give to the employee, being unwell is an inconvenience at any time, but even more so when you are missing out on a wage, particularly if you had to take a long period of time off due to illness.
Are there any positives to zero hour contracts? Despite the seemingly endless negatives, a zero hour contract may work for you depending on your circumstances. If you need flexibility, then zero hours may be ideal for you. Zero hours contracts may also appeal to students, if you visit home regularly or need time off during exam periods zero hours may appeal to you. If you need more than one job, a zero hour contract can work for you as it is easier to avoid conflicting hours.
1Those workers on zero hour contracts can join a union, and should to protect them from discrimination as a worker. EFWU has many members on these contracts and defends and combats these employers that discriminate against zero hour workers.