The number of people on zero-hours contracts has exploded in the last decade. This means that a growing number of working people don’t have a guaranteed minimum number of working hours.
Zero-hours workers are some of the most insecure and vulnerable people in the workforce. Workers on a zero-hours contract still have statutory rights, including the national minimum wage, paid holiday, and the right to take rest breaks. And if they work in the devolved Welsh public sector they have further entitlements – including an offer automatic offer of a permanent or temporary contract after twelve weeks of regular hours.
Zero-hours contracts allow employers to hire staff with no guarantee of work.
Also known as casual contracts, they mean workers are always at the beck and call of employers to work whenever they’re needed, which can often be at the last minute. Under the terms of the WPC agreement, they are also known as ‘non-guaranteed hours arrangements’.
Since there’s no obligation on employers to offer work on a zero-hour contract, shifts are often cancelled with little notice – sometimes even after staff arrive at their workplace.
Pay also depends on how many hours employees work from one week to the next. This can vary wildly in the current economic climate, making financial planning very difficult.
Yes, ‘casual contracts’ and 'zero-hour contracts are the same thing.
Devolved public sector employers often do not want to use the term ‘zero hour contracts’, partly as a result of the bad reputation such contracts have. They instead use terms like ‘casual contracts’ and ‘non-guaranteed hours arrangements’.
Furthermore, bank nursing arrangements are also a form of zero-hour contract. However, unions have agreed with the health boards about the use of these contracts at a local level.
Both managers and trade union representatives can agree that we want to limit and prevent the use of exploitative zero hours contracts in the Welsh public sector.
It is important for public bodies to acknowledge that they do make use of zero-hour contracts when they engage staff on casual contracts or non—guaranteed hours contracts - they are using zero-hour contracts. What’s important is that these are only used within the context of a locally agreed statement on their use and the national WPC agreement on the matter.
According to Social Care Wales’ Workforce Data Report, zero-hours contracts account for 34 per cent of the outsourced domiciliary care workforce and 11 per cent of the local authority workforce. Domiciliary care workers provide care to people who live in their own homes. They provide a vital service to the country and they should be offered temporary or permanent contracts.
In March 2023, a Workforce Partnership Council survey found that only one in five devolved public sector bodies in Wales said they had a policy to manage and curtail the use of zero-hour contracts.
Trade unions can help in a number of ways:
Zero-hour workers in the devolved Welsh public sector have the following entitlements:
“When regular hours have been worked over the preceding 12 weeks and it is predicted that there is a continuing need for the hours to be worked on an ongoing basis, the individual will be automatically offered employment on a permanent or temporary contract to meet that predicted need.” Source: Point 2 of the implementation process of the WPC’s NGHA agreement (page 6)
“Staff engaged through non-guaranteed hours arrangements will have terms and conditions of service as far as practicable the same as those of their permanent staff.” Source: Point 5 of the Principles contained in the WPC’s NGHA agreement (page 5)
“Staff engaged through non-guaranteed hours arrangements will have access to appropriate induction, training and development support to enable them to undertake their roles effectively. Staff will be paid for undertaking any required induction and training relevant to the role being undertaken.” Source: Point 3 of the Principles contained in the WPC’s NGHA agreement (page 5)
“Organisations will provide as much notice as possible when asking staff on non-guaranteed hours arrangements to undertake work.” Point 5 under the Implementation Process in the WPC’s NGHA agreement (page 7)
“Organisations will agree with their recognised trade unions appropriate arrangements for compensating staff when work is cancelled by the organisation at short notice.” Point 7 under the Implmentation Process in the WPC’s NGHA agreement (page 8)
“Organisations will have clear policies enabling staff engaged on these types of arrangements to be able to take annual leave.” Point 11 under the Implmentation Process in the WPC’s NGHA agreement (page 8)
These entitlements stem from the national WPC Agreement on the Acceptable Use of Non-Guaranteed Hours Arrangements (NGHAs)
Get a statement on the use of zero-hour contracts – and review it
The most important step you can take as a rep to support zero-hour contract workers engaged by your public body is to ensure that your organisation has drawn up a statement on the use of zero-hour contracts, under the terms of the WPC’s NGHA agreement.
Write to your HR team to ask how many staff are currently engaged on casual, non-guaranteed hours arrangements or zero hour contracts. This is very useful information to inform your campaign.
If you’re organisation already has an agreement, then it should be reviewed regularly.
The Workforce Partnership Council has produced Best Practice on the Acceptable Use of Non-Guaranteed Hours Arrangements which is a handy guide which employers can use to support workers on zero hours contracts. Such contracts are also known as casual contracts and non-guaranteed hours arrangements.
You could follow the example of one local authority which meets with its unions to analyse how and where it used casual or zero-hour contracts.
Together, the council and the trade unions agreed to reform their approach. Now, every person engaged on a zero-hour contract has their individual employment status reviewed at regular intervals.
If they are working regular hours and predicted to continue to do so then they are offered the opportunity of a regular contract, in line with the agreement.
The WPC’s agreement on the appropriate use of these contracts states that each organisation will produce a statement about its approach to them.
One example of how to meet this principle is provided by a Welsh Government sponsored body, which produced an implementation paper to deliver its actions in this area. This would be a beneficial approach to emulate.
You may wish to emulate the practice of one public body which provided training to casual staff from vulnerable backgrounds with the express intention of supporting them in developing their careers.
The Workforce Partnership Council’s Agreement on the Acceptable Use of Non-Guaranteed Hours Arrangements applies to all those public bodies which are part of the WPC, namely:
However, it is important to note that to implement the national agreement, each public body must produce a statement on the use of non-guaranteed hours arrangements, which is agreed by the trade unions. This statement forms the basis for implementing the zero-hour contract agreement locally.