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Brydn Webb

Zero-hours contracts: time to stamp them out

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Those on zero-hour contracts aren’t guaranteed any hours each week. Despite this, they actually work plenty, often at anti-social times.

While their contracts don’t promise them any definite hours, those on zero-hour contracts usually work, on average, 25 hours per week.

Working hours for those on zero-hour contracts are more likely to be anti-social. Those on zero-hour contracts are twice as likely as those on fixed-hour contracts to be working night shifts, and also twice as likely to be working seven days a week.

They also face a higher risk of being given no work at all. Over one in seven zero-hour workers are left without any work in a reference week, almost twice the proportion of those on regular contracts (16.4% to 8.6%).

The unpredictability and anti-social hours don’t mean that they get paid more to make up for the inconvenience. It’s the opposite. Working people on zero-hour contracts have an average hourly pay rate of £7.70, compared to £11.80 for those not on zero hours.

Missing out on security and rights

You might think that as long as people are being given the hours each week, it doesn’t matter how many they’re technically contracted to work. But, it does.

Without any guarantees, workers are left not knowing how many hours they’ll be working each week. They don’t even know if they’ll get any hours at all. A zero-hour contract lets bosses suddenly stop giving shifts to workers, which means that workers are forced to try to constantly stay in their boss’s favour, or risk losing work and pay.

Those on zero-hours contracts might also not know when they’ll be working. Bosses can re-jig shifts constantly, making it impossible for people to plan their lives around work. More than half (51%) of zero-hours workers have had shifts cancelled at less than 24 hours' notice. And nearly three-quarters (73%) have been offered work at less than 24 hours' notice.

If you’re not contracted to work any hours, this makes it hard to claim sick pay when you’re ill, or holiday pay when you fancy a break. When we polled zero-hours workers in 2017, only 12 per cent told us that they get sick pay.

The power and flexibility is entirely one-sided, favouring employers who want to inconvenience and exploit their workers in whatever way suits them.

The government needs to act

Last December, the government finally responded to the Taylor Review. We hoped that they’d use this response as an opportunity to stamp out these exploitative contracts. Instead, they are introducing a ‘right to request’ a more stable and predictable contract after six months in the job.

But a ‘right to request’ is no right at all. It provides workers with the option to ask, but no right to receive.

Those on zero-hour contracts are often working long hours, and deserve a contract that reflects the reality of their working life. This will provide them with better access to rights, such as sick pay and holiday pay.

That’s why, this HeartUnions week, we’re reiterating our call to stamp out zero-hour contracts. Unions are pledging to stamp out zero-hour contracts where they have recognition agreement, and they’re joining us in campaigning to have them banned across the economy.

Ban zero-hours contracts Too many workers are being denied job security, sick pay and holiday pay - and insecure work is out of control.