Zero Hours Contracts – have January’s changes made them fairer?
Zero hours contracts have dominated the headlines with stories of companies abusing their power to retain staff, while not being obliged to give them any work.
However they can be beneficial for some workers, such a students, who value flexibility to fit work around their studies, or older people wanting to work when it suits them. But these workers may need to be able to work for a number of employers to ensure they have a steady stream of work.
The government took action in May 2015 and made exclusivity clauses in zero hours contracts unenforceable.
This rendered unenforceable any provision in a zero hours contract which prohibited a worker from doing work or performing services under another contract or arrangement, with or without the employer’s consent.
Unfortunately, this still left companies free to take action against staff that worked for other employers, as there was no legal redress available to workers, if employers breached their contract, by insisting they only work for them.
Legal protection has now been put in place so that since 11 January it is now automatically unfair to dismiss an employee, or subject a worker to a detriment, for failing to comply with an exclusivity clause.
The problem is that it is difficult to see this benefiting staff disadvantaged by these arrangements.
Companies retain the freedom to offer work, or not, as they wish and the reality is that staff have to be at their “beck and call” if they want to continue being offered work. The risk for an employee in raising issue with any exclusivity clause is that they might never hear from this employer again.
The reality is that zero hours contracts are used by companies to obtain staff, when they need them, without having to provide them with any security. Now that employees have to pay Tribunal fees to issue claims, together with their need to be offered continuing work, it is unlikely that anyone on a zero hours contract will challenge unfair practice around exclusivity.