The uptake in zero hours contracts has taken flexible working up another notch; it means that employees can fix working hours to match their availability and employers can save some money on payroll. It’s a happy medium but it also sounds too good to be true.
A new report from Commons’ Scottish Affairs Committee has claimed that this agreement between the employer and employee stacks up all the benefits in favour of the employer. It leaves them with the flexibility and low costs while the employee works with the looming fear of dismissal and is denied access to due rights of employment. In some cases, the report also found that those on zero hours contracts were also earning less than the minimum wage.
A separate report by the Scottish Trade Union Council found that approximately 85,000 people are currently working as and when they’re required to and with no guarantees. There are circumstances where both sides are satisfied with the arrangement but often, it results in workers lacking guaranteed income and having reduced access to entitlements such as maternity, holiday and sick pay and redundancy rights.
It is in light of these unfavourable conditions that the Scottish Affairs Committee has urged the government to review the practice. The group carried out an inquiry in Scotland amid a perceived rise in the misuse of zero hours contracts and other forms of insecure employment over the last 18 months.
The committee concluded that zero hours contracts and other forms of casual labour can benefit both employers and workers but our inquiry has shown that, too often, the relationship is unbalanced, leaving the employer with all of the flexibility and few costs and the worker in fear of dismissal and denied access to due rights of employment.
It went on to make several recommendations including:
- Zero hours contracts should only be used where the employer can justify it objectively;
- Workers should be told from the outset what type of contract they are on;
- Where workers arrive for work but find none available, the employer should compensate them for the inconvenience
“Zero hours contracts put workers in such a vulnerable position that they are unable even to assert their lawful right to the meagre benefits these contracts offer,” comments Ian Davidson, Labour MP for Glasgow South West. “The government should use all the levers at its disposal, including legislative change, to effect a shift in culture.”
He adds: “Our detailed recommendations would improve the operation of zero hours contracts but our overriding conclusion is that, in the majority of cases, zero hours contracts need not and should not be used at all.”