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Top Lawyer Warns on Zero-Hour Contracts Black Hole


Top Lawyer Warns on Zero-Hour Contracts Black Hole

A leading Scots law firm has told of its fears that workers on controversial zero-hour contracts could 'fall into a black hole'. A leading Scots law firm has told of its fears that workers on controversial zero-hour contracts could 'fall into a black hole'.

Thorntons, which provides legal advice to a wide range of commercial and public sector organisations, also fears that few further and higher education institutions have policies in place regarding the use of such contracts.

The TUC Congress voted yesterday in favour of outlawing zero-hour contracts which require people to work exclusively for one business and Labour leader Ed Miliband insisted that his party would be seeking to end the misuse of such contracts particularly where people are being required to work exclusively for one employer even though they are not being guaranteed any hours.

The topic of zero-hour contracts has particularly been in the spotlight since research carried out by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development last month indicated that over a million employees are affected by such contracts.

Zero hours contracts are prevalent in certain sectors including education and hospitality, and often for good reason where the quantity or frequency of work cannot be guaranteed .

Noele McClelland, employment law associate at Thorntons, commented: "At the moment people on zero-hour contracts will be deemed to be employed for the purpose of unemployment figures, but these contracts mean that workers have to be extremely flexible and do not necessarily have any guarantee of regular income or working hours. The result is that such workers could fall into a black hole.

"Given the TUC's vote and the comments from the Government and the Opposition, this is clearly a very hot topic and further changes may be coming soon.

"In the meantime, recent research from the UCU appears to show that only a few further and higher education institutions have policies in place regarding the use of zero-hour contracts. Edinburgh University has just announced its plans to formally review their use of such contracts, and it is likely that a number of other universities and colleges will follow.

"This is a risk to employers as the position could be unclear and potentially unfair. Lessons to take from this controversy are to ensure all contracts including zero-hour contracts are in a clear, written format and that consistent policies are used. If the Government were to completely ban the use of such contracts it may well lead to greater inflexibility in workforce planning and lead to the greater use of short duration fixed term contracts or more agency workers.

"The ability for an employer to be able to justify their use and their terms - especially in respect of minimum guaranteed hours - is key. Employers need to carefully consider what the most appropriate contract of employment is in the given circumstances".

Thorntons recently came top in a number of categories in the Advanced Procurement for Universities and Colleges(APUC) Scotland-wide procurement process to provide legal services to Universities and Colleges.

If you have any concerns, queries or would like to discuss this or any other employment issue, please get in touch with a member of Thorntons' Education Law Team at educationlaw@thorntons.co.uk

Posted by Noele McClelland

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