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UK Politics

Zero-hours contract workers: give them fixed-hours employment after a year, says Resolution Foundation think tank


Workers on a zero-hours contract should be given a legal right to a fixed-hours deal after 12 months, according to an inquiry which reports today.

The recommendations from the Resolution Foundation think tank could provide the basis for action by the Government or a Labour administration if the party wins next year’s general election. Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, is reviewing the growing use of the contracts, which put workers on standby without any guaranteed minimum hours. Labour has promised to give such employees greater protection.

Between 600,000 and 1 million workers are believed to be covered by the contracts and the foundation offers the first set of detailed proposals on the issue.

Today’s inquiry rejected calls by some trade unions for a ban on the controversial contracts, saying that many employers, and some workers, like the flexibility they offer. But it found “clear signs of abuse” by bosses and proposed a package of reforms to give employees more security. The key one is a legal right to switch to a part-time fixed-hours contract if someone has worked regular shifts for at least 12 months and their work pattern has been “relatively consistent.”

Other ideas from the foundation include:

  • A ban on “exclusivity clauses” in zero-hours contracts, to stop employers preventing people on them from working elsewhere
  • Workers on zero-hours contracts should receive a clear statement of their terms of employment
  • The Government should enforce these workers’ rights more strongly and deter abuse by employers
  • A good practice guide should be agreed by employers and unions.

The independent think tank, which specialises in the problems faced by people on low and middle incomes, called for local authorities to scale back their use of zero hours contracts in social care. It proposed that councils commission care work by outcomes rather than time slots, after criticism that some care workers are not paid for travel time between home visits.

According to the inquiry, it is too soon to judge whether the recent growth in the use of zero-hours contracts has been driven by the economic downturn or is a permanent feature of the labour market.

Vidhya Alakeson, the joint author of the report and the foundation’s deputy chief executive, said: “The argument that nothing can be done to address the inappropriate use of zero-hours contracts is as unconvincing as that which says that they should just be banned outright. These proposals strike a balance, keeping the flexibility that some people value and adding far more security and clarity for workers. With these practical steps and an effort to develop good practice among employers, it should be possible to protect the rights and conditions of workers without limiting the flexibility of firms.”

She added: “Not all firms misuse zero-hours contracts and a few staff even prefer them but it’s clear there’s substantial abuse of these contracts which affects a significant minority of the workforce. In particular, there is no justification for keeping a regular worker on a zero-hours contract for more than a year.”

Ms Alakeson said: “We single out the care sector for particular attention because this is where it will be hardest to reduce the use of zero-hours contracts but also the place where their use is most entrenched and where their impact on vulnerable workers and care recipients is most worrying.”