Labour shortages mean more zero hours’ contracts. How do they work?

There are over 800,000 people employed in the UK on zero-hours contracts in their main employment. Those working under such contracts are most likely to be young (aged 16–24), part time, women, or in full-time education, working on average 26 hours a week.  However with the shortages of labour in the hospitality industry it is expected that zero hours’ labour is on the increase.

A zero-hours contract means a contract of employment in which the individual can either accept the work offered, or decide not to take up the offer of work on that occasion. It is not best practice for an employer to try and force the worker to work, as this may imply a more permanent form of work status and potentially mean that the terms and conditions no longer suit the requirements of both parties.

The individual should understand that the contract provides flexibility and the number of hours may reduce or cease at the request of the employer. Where the individual persistently refuses work when offered, this may result in future work being offered to others first and it may ultimately influence the employer to terminate the working arrangement.

The advantages of a zero-hours contract to an employer are as follows:

  • access to a pool of workers, as demand dictates
  • a cheaper alternative to paying agency fees
  • no ongoing requirement to pay workers, when the business has no work

When recruiting for a zero-hours contract, the job should be clearly advertised as such. Employers should be clear about how the work is offered and remember that all staff employed on a zero-hours contract are still entitled to statutory employment rights, without any exception.

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