Zero-hours contract reform: Zero benefit?

Louise Skinner

The Government has this week introduced legislation rendering exclusivity clauses in zero-hours contracts unenforceable. Any term in a zero-hours contract which prohibits the worker from doing work under a contract for a different party, or prohibits him or her from doing so without the employer’s consent, is unenforceable against the worker. On the face of it, this is a positive and welcome development for workers, often in the lowest paid jobs, who often find themselves with little or no paid work at the employer’s whim. So far, so sensible – right?

It seems not, say workers and Unions, whose response has been lukewarm at best – with the new law being described as “toothless”. While exclusivity clauses are, in theory, unenforceable, there is not yet any right of redress for workers whose hours are reduced or withdrawn altogether as a result of them also doing work for another employer. The Government has said it plans to introduce legislation to create a new protection from detriment for zero-hours contract workers who take jobs under other contracts – but right now, they have no claim. This means that, for the time being at least, the new law is unlikely to have a significant impact for employers, who like the flexibility zero-hours contracts give but want to ensure workers are available when needed.

In fact, Unite has said that the focus on trying to ensure workers could take on more than one zero-hours job does nothing to make their employment more secure. It criticises zero-hours contracts because they do not guarantee a minimum number of working hours a week and also fail to provide for other typical employment benefits and protections. For many workers, exclusivity is the least of their problems. Added to which, employers may still choose to include a term in contracts requiring that the employee be available for work on request – which in practice is likely to have the same effect as an exclusivity clause.

So, despite the hype it seems that, for the time being at least, there will be little change for zero-hours workers. As ever, the debate over business flexibility and growth versus protection of workers’ rights rumbles on ….


Comments published on Employment Talk do not necessarily reflect the views of Allen & Overy.

Read comments below or add a comment
  1. Sarah Henchoz says:

    Zero hours contracts and other atypical working arrangements are not exclusive to the UK. We recently held a Global Employment Practice seminar in France during which a number of our Employment Partners and Counsel spoke about the different working patterns we are seeing across Europe and the US. Our next Big Think publication will be considering this in more detail. Replacing employees with robots was probably the most creative and alarming option being considered…

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