Iain Duncan Smith (aka IDS), the Secretary for the Department of Work and Pensions, believes that zero hour contracts allow workers to have a “good work-life balance” and the phrase “zero-hour contracts” has attained a negative overtone, and should be “flexible hours contracts”. Shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna has accused IDS of “trying to dress up insecurity as flexibility”.
Zero hour contracts have been demonised in the press for many years and the understanding of them has been clouded with party politics and rhetoric. Most recently zero hour was a major issue during the election with political parties having opinions but little real understanding of how they work. So what are zero hour contracts and how do they work for over 1.4 million people in the UK?
For starters, zero hour contracts do not have a very clear legal definition but are largely understood to be a contract between an employer and a worker or employee where the employer is not obliged to provide any minimum working hours, and in the majority of cases the worker is not obliged to accept any work offered. Zero hour contracts provide a highly flexible workforce to meet a temporary or changeable need for staff.
In the next instalment of our Zero Hour series, we explore why zero hour contracts have gained such a bad reputation…