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Zero-hours contracts rise despite employment rights push

View profile for Sally Morris
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The number of zero-hours contracts rose significantly in 2017, despite the drive to level the playing field between workers and employers.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS), which published the figures, revealed that the number of contracts increased by around 100,000 between November 2016 and November 2017, from 1.7 million to 1.8 million.

Zero-hours contracts are criticised by campaigners as they offer little financial protection for families. Under such a contract, an employer has the right to reduce or not offer regular working hours, meaning the employee is forced to live month to month without a guaranteed paycheck.

However, they can be attractive to select demographics, such as students and young people who enjoy the freedom a zero-hours contract gives.

In recent years, certain brands, such as McDonald’s, have offered their workforces the option to transfer to a guaranteed hours contract – a move well received by employment rights groups.

But the figures published today indicate that very little has been done elsewhere to cut the number of workers on zero-hours contracts.

Tim Roache, the general secretary of the trade union GMB, said: “The number of zero-hours contracts should be falling but they are in fact on the rise.”

The report comes shortly after the publication of the Matthew Taylor Review, which gave a sweeping insight into the state of employment and the gig economy. In it, it has made a number of recommendations currently being considered by Government.

The Taylor Review recommendations in brief

  • taking further action to ensure unpaid interns are not doing the job of a worker
  • introducing a new naming scheme for employers who fail to pay employment tribunal awards
  • quadrupling employment tribunal fines for employers showing malice, spite or gross oversight to £20,000 and considering increasing penalties for employers who have previously lost similar cases
  • providing all 1.2 million agency workers with a clear breakdown of who pays them and any costs or charges deducted from their wages
  • asking the Low Pay Commission to consider the impact of higher minimum wage rates for workers on zero-hour contracts
  • considering repealing laws allowing agencies to employ workers on cheaper rates
  • defining ‘working time’ for flexible workers who find jobs through apps or online so they know when they should be being paid
  • launching a task force with business to promote awareness and take-up of the right to request flexible working introduced in 2014
  • making sure new and expectant mothers know their workplace rights and raise awareness amongst employers of their obligations
  • launching a new campaign to encourage more working parents to share childcare through Shared Parental Leave – a right introduced in 2015

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