Zero hour contracts – dividing opinion


Zero hours contracts were a constant topic in the 2017 election campaign and are the subject of much controversy in the UK with recent figures suggesting that there are over 900,000 employees on these contracts.

The Labour party has pledged to ban zero hours contracts and the big corporates are often slammed for employing members of staff on these contracts which give staff no guarantee of their hours – employees only work when they are needed and can be given little notice of when they are required. Sick pay is rarely paid but holiday pay is a requirement to comply with the working time regulations.

Zero hours contracts feature in sectors such as tourism, retail, leisure and hospitality and feature prominently in cleaning, catering, retail, care work, helpdesk etc where employers pay minimum wage for roles that are perceived to be low skill.

Conversely, these contracts offer employers flexibility allowing them to adjust their staffing levels to respond to peaks and troughs of workload. Extremes of weather impact on demand for some products and services whilst zero hours contracts are used extensively in sectors where demand is highly seasonal – Easter, Summer, Christmas etc and similarly, in sectors such as tourism and hospitality, demand can change drastically at short notice.
Employers would argue that zero hours contracts are a commercial necessity by avoiding the burden of fixed overheads and paying employees when there is little or no work to be done.

To balance the argument – not all employees on zero hours contracts are complaining and there are those who are happy with the arrangement (but they are the minority) because it gives them flexibility and some effectively juggle several zero hours contracts with different employers and this suits their personal circumstances.
A common complaint with employees on zero hours contracts is that it can be difficult to plan ahead because the employer may give them very little notice of the requirement to work although the likelihood is that they may be required to provide sickness cover, in which case the employer will have had little notice.

Employers can often be accused of favouritism because where they have a bank of employees available on zero hours contracts, they can offer the work to favoured employees and fewer hours to those less favoured.

The lack of financial stability or security for those on zero hours contracts is an issue. Certainly, employees on zero hours contracts will struggle to secure mortgages because of the lack of certainty of a regular income to enable them to make repayments and the same argument will apply for those looking to get private rented accommodation.

Very few businesses are exempt from seasonal fluctuation and as long as this continues, demand for staff will always be variable and there will always be people who want to work hours to suit their needs or lifestyle – this is the basic principle of flexibility and shows zero hours contracts in their best light.

Unfortunately, some businesses will abuse zero hours contracts and use them in situations where they are not appropriate and as a means of avoiding having to guarantee hours to employees – this is why the Labour party would ban them.
They are here to stay but arguably, only as long as we don’t have a Labour Government.

Adrian Berwick offers HR support to business and if you want any advice or guidance on the issues raised in this article, please either contact me on 07885 714771 or

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