May 23, 2017

Zero hour work; hours of discussion.

The government (the current one) have a commission enquiring into employment practices lead by Royal Society of Arts Chief Executive Matthew Taylor.  The inquiry has an overall remit to consider how the legal framework surrounding employment supports individuals and businesses as the labour market and economy change.

One issue that always comes up is zero hour’s contracts and a change that may come out of the enquiry is giving those on zero hours contracts the right to request fixed hours. If introduced this right seems likely to be on the lines of the current right to request flexible working. That is employers will have to reasonably consider a formal request and any decision not to grant it must be for legally defined business reasons.

Interestingly a BBC report on the possibility of fixed hours requests refers to McDonalds Chief Executive’s comment. He states that when they offered all their staff an opportunity to move to fixed hours only about 20% took them up on the offer. It will be interesting to see whether that reflects a general take up of this option if it becomes law.

The Office for National Statistics survey for the latter part of 2016 shows that around 900,000 people (about 2.8% of employees) are on zero hours contracts. Although this is a small percentage of the workforce it has risen from under 1% in 2012.

As with all these things the devil is in the detail. If it follows the current flexible working request process then employers will not be forced to agree to give fixed hours though they may have to justify a refusal. Currently flexible working can be requested by anyone. Employees can ask for a change to hours, times of work or location. The Institute of Leadership & Management made a report on flexible working back in 2013 (when the right was generally limited to those with under full age children or other caring responsibilities). It suggested that even then a majority of managers considered that flexible working was beneficial to business and didn’t see it limited to those with caring responsibilities. Whether businesses view of the usefulness of flexibility has in fact encouraged the increase in the extreme flexibility of zero hours is open to speculation. Could this new possible change be seen as the introduction of a request for “less flexible working”?