Cable urges workers to make his zero-hours crackdown watertight

Loopholes include offering staff derisory one- or two-hour contracts instead of zero-hours ones

Workers on controversial zero-hours contracts will be asked to identify potential ways unscrupulous employers could exploit new rules that will ban the use of “exclusivity” clauses.

The Government is set to make illegal the clauses that give workers no guaranteed fixed hours while banning them from taking other work, but ministers are concerned some companies could find loopholes to keep workers disadvantaged.

Issues have already been raised that employers could maintain the ban on working elsewhere, while offering staff derisory one- or two-hour contracts instead.

Zero-hours contracts, used by a wide range of companies, including Sports Direct, McDonald’s, Cineworld, Burger King franchisees and Wetherspoons, give staff no set hours, leaving workers not knowing how much money they will make each week.

The launch of the consultation will also ask business leaders and workers what penalties should be issued for anyone caught breaching the rules, with proposals from civil fines to criminal sanctions.

Business Secretary Vince Cable said: “We are tightening the screws on rogue employers who try to abuse workers on zero-hour contracts. We are looking closely at any potential loopholes that could arise from a ban, to ensure that these are closed off and no one can get round the new law. We are also ensuring there is access to justice for workers treated unfairly.”

Video: Vince Cable promises zero-hours clampdown in June

However, critics say the Government’s plans do not go far enough. Labour leader Ed Miliband has called for staff who work regularly for the same employer for over a year to be given a fixed-hours contract, get compensation for shifts cancelled at short notice and be able to request a fixed-hours contract after six months of continuous employment.

The issue has shot up the political agenda over the past year, forcing the Office for National Statistics to reassess the way it calculates the number of workers on zero-hours contracts. Most recent estimates put this at 622,000,  compared with just 250,000 estimated a year ago.

Some campaigners have called for the contracts to be banned, though Mr Cable has ruled that out, claiming the contracts can be beneficial for students and workers looking for flexibility.

Ministers will also hold talks with business representatives and unions to develop sector-specific codes of practice to help guide the fair usage of the contractsthat are used in various areas, including retail, hospitality, construction and the care sector.

Billionaire Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct could be one of the first companies to fall foul of the new laws after it was recently revealed his retail empire used moonlighting clauses for its 20,000 staff on zero-hours contracts. The clauses ban staff from working for competitors and they can only get a second job if they seek permission.

An employment tribunal is due later this year with a former staff member accusing the company of abusing the contracts.

Shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna said: “We have seen a rising tide of insecurity in the workplace since David Cameron came to office, with his Government watering down the rights at work of every working person in this country. “So it is unsurprising the Government has put forward the minimum it thought it could get away with to deal with exploitative zero-hours contracts.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...