By Bob Jeffrey, Anti-Casualisation Officer, Sheffield Hallam UCU Branch
This week the UCU branch at Sheffield Hallam University has declared a significant win against casualisation. 96% of members polled have endorsed a negotiated settlement that will see all Associate Lecturers (ALs) moved off of zero-hour contracts (ZHCs), with those who are engaged for more than 8 consecutive weeks (i.e. the overwhelming majority) moved onto fixed-term contracts.
Although this does not end casualisation at SHU, it goes a long way to addressing the insecurity of zero-hour contracts and inequalities between ALs and other members of academic staff. Specifically:
In addition, the branch was able to secure explicit commitments that the employer does not seek to expand the amount of teaching currently covered by ALs, that no existing academic staff would be downgraded, and to ensure that Associate Lecturers are given the appropriate fixed-term contracts (in terms of length and number of hours). In order to hold the employer to these commitments, robust data will be shared with UCU on an annual basis.
The UCU branch at Sheffield Hallam has achieved these gains (and previous gains) as a culmination of a decade of campaigning work, coupled with a preparedness to pursue industrial action, and positive engagement with the employer. That campaigning work began when a Freedom of Information request by UCU HQ in 2013 revealed that there were hundreds of zero hour contracts lecturers at Sheffield Hallam.
Conscious of how insecure contracts can be associated with lower rates of pay, pressure to work when sick, anxiety and depression and even risk of exposure to sexual harassment, we were determined to explore the working conditions of ZHC lecturers further, the branch followed up the national FOI with a 2014 survey to evidence the problems workers on these kinds of contracts faced. An overwhelming majority responded that they would prefer to be on a permanent contract with guaranteed hours of work. They also drew attention to the fact that their hourly rate of pay rarely accounted for all of the work they were expected to do (especially in terms of preparation and marking), they were rarely fully included within their subject groups (by being invited to and paid to attend meetings) and in many cases did not feel empowered to speak up about their working conditions.
The UCU branch has consistently campaigned on these issues ever since, using casework to push arguments around the ‘less favourable treatment’ of ZHC ALs – for example, if full time, permanent members of staff get an annual appraisal, so should their zero-hour, part time equivalents. In pursuing this strategy – particularly ensuring ZHC staff were invited to and paid to attend meetings – we were able to reduce the extent to which ALs were seen as cheaper alternative to permanent academic staff.
A further breakthrough came with the Roddis vs Sheffield Hallam University Employment Appeals Tribunal hearing in 2018. For the first time, this overturned a ludicrous ‘catch-22’ that had effectively prevented ZHC cases being brough under the Part Time Workers Regulations (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) 2000. The courts had up until that point had stipulated that any case brought under the regulations required a permanent/full-time comparator ‘on the same contract’, but of course the claimant would be on a zero-hours contract and their comparator would not be, which automatically ruled them out. A further ruling then found that much of the substantive work undertaken by Associate Lecturers at Sheffield Hallam is ‘broadly similar to’ the work undertaken by permanent/full-time academic staff.
It is also worth noting that the branch was engaged in a local dispute over workload in 2019-2020, which was successful. Although the industrial action in that year was unrelated to casualisation, it was the first local strike at SHU in decades, and gave a clear indication that the branch would pursue strikes on a given issue, in the absence of meaningful engagement.
While this leverage is important, the employer has also demonstrated a more enlightened disposition in recent years, recognising some of the issues around zero-hour contracts and engaging with the union on a constructive basis.
Bob Jeffery, Anti-Casualisation Officer at Sheffield Hallam UCU branch, says: "I’m delighted to see the employer move away from zero-hours, which are the most insecure type of employment contracts. We expect several hundred workers will benefit from the enhanced terms and conditions on offer. This is a big step forward in the fight against casualisation."
Ben Abell, Branch Secretary at Sheffield Hallam UCU branch says: "These contracts represent an improvement for our most casualised members on a number of fronts. This positive outcome is a testament to the campaigning work of our membership and is just one example of what being in the union can achieve."
PRESS RELEASE: BRENT COUNCIL AND BEAVERBROOKS THE LATEST ORGANISATIONS TO BE AWARDED ZERO HOURS JUSTICE ACCREDITATION
Zero hours contracts have reached a record high according to data released today by the Office of National Statistics. The Labour Force Survey shows the numbers of workers on zero hours contracts in October – December 2022 has reached a staggering 1.13 million workers, an increase of 8.5% on the previous quarter. The largest groups of workers on zero hours contracts are women, young people and workers born outside the UK. The two sectors highest hit are hospitality (29.9% of workers) and care (18.7% of workers).
In the absence of government action, Zero Hours Justice are encouraging employers to do the right thing and stop the use of unilaterally imposed zero hours contracts
Brent Council directly employs 2,614 people and not one of these workers are on a zero hours contract. Brent Council’s accreditation as a “Silver” standard Zero Hours Justice employer includes a commitment to actively encourage their third-party contractors, providers and agencies to phase out the use of zero hours contracts for workers in any services they provide. This sets a great example to other local authorities, as well as businesses in their community and beyond.
Zero Hours Justice recognise that public bodies, like Brent Council, do outsource services, often as a result of cuts to funding from central government. However, in awarding Brent Council “Silver” Accreditation, Brent have pledged their commitment to actively encourage all third-party contractors, providers and agencies to phase out the use of zero hours contracts over time, in any services they provide.
Cllr Muhammed Butt, Leader of Brent Council, says, “This is a massive achievement for Brent Council and a key step in our path to becoming a Living Wage Borough. Despite the hurdles, over the last few years we’ve in-sourced hundreds of jobs, from our estate cleaning service to our park wardens, all with a view to improve workers’ rights and conditions. As an anchor institution we know there is much more to do, but I’m proud of the journey we have already made to creating good jobs with good pay; today’s accreditation shows just how far we have already come.”
The motion to support the Zero Hours Justice campaign and Accreditation Scheme was proposed to Brent Council by Cllr Jumbo Chan. Cllr Chan says "I am proud that Brent Council has shown great leadership by becoming the first local authority in Britain to become accredited with Zero Hours Justice. With a Cost of Living Crisis engulfing the country, Britain's biggest employers can choose to either forsake workers to further precarity and insecurity, or establish a partnership based upon mutual respect and hard work, and thus create a virtuous circle towards shared decency and prosperity for all. Though there is still much more work to do, by affirming that our direct employees are not subject to zero-hour contracts – nor for that matter, fire and rehire – Brent Council has shown that local authorities can be on the cutting edge of workers' rights."
Chris Peace, Director of Zero Hours Justice says, “This is a huge step forward and we applaud Brent Council for this milestone commitment. They have now set a benchmark for other local authorities and public bodies, such as NHS Trusts. Our public services are at the heart of our communities, employing 1,000s of people in their areas, and funded by the taxpayer, so it is only right that they lead by example and do not directly employ anyone on a zero hours contract, also encouraging other businesses and organisations to do the same.”
Beaverbrooks is famous for being a great company to work for and as a family-owned business, doing the best thing for its people is in Beaverbrooks’ DNA, and this is reflected in every decision the company makes. Beaverbrooks has shown that a refrain from using zero hours contracts is not only possible, but it makes complete business sense as well.
Anna Blackburn, Managing Director of Beaverbrooks, said: “At Beaverbrooks, our belief has always been if you put your people at the heart of everything you do, it will reflect positively in the bottom line. Protecting jobs, a commitment to never using zero hours contracts and maintaining fair wages and hours is a key priority as part of this. By staying true to our core values and company culture, Beaverbrooks delivered record breaking results in 2022 and into this year. This has enabled us to pay our biggest ever bonuses, deliver a one-off cost of living payment to all our people in October 2022 and continue our tradition of an extra week’s salary in December 2022. As we navigate uncertain times ahead of us, we will continue our commitment to supporting our colleagues and making our company the fantastic place to work that it is.”
Julian Richer, founder of Zero Hours Justice says, “We are delighted that both Brent Council and Beaverbrooks are the latest additions to our ever-growing number of accredited employers. It can’t be right that the uncertainty of working hours and income results in many zero hours workers experiencing poverty, mental anguish and anxiety which so often affects the whole family. By offering workers the certainty of a contract with clear hours and full employment rights, employers will reap the rewards in staff retention and productivity. I urge all employers to follow the lead set by those who have signed up to the Zero Hours Justice accreditation scheme and apply to join our free accreditation scheme. Zero hours contracts are bad for workers, bad for business and bad for the economy.”
By Alison Woods
The cost of living crisis has taken a significant toll on many UK households. Inflation is currently at 10.1%, although the price rise on individual food and drink items is 20-40%. Energy, petrol and diesel, grocery, and mortgage prices have all gone up, making it difficult for consumers to make ends meet.
This skyrocketing cost of living is particularly strenuous for zero-hour workers, whose work and income is not technically guaranteed from one week to the next. At the same time, many employers are inappropriately using zero hours contracts for work that is in fact quite regular. That means that, even though a worker has been working regular hours for a long period of time, they could suddenly find themselves without work. We would ask employers to have empathy for their staff and strive to ensure that their need for security is met.
Why zero-hours workers take a toll on workers
Uncertainty in zero-hour contracts can be immensely damaging to the well-being of workers. Research from the University of Aberdeen points out that zero-hours workers are largely vulnerable to anxiety, stress, and depression due to financial and social insecurity. Workers are not be always eligible for sick leave. Even where they are eligible for sick pay, the level is so low that it often cannot make up for the loss of income from not working. Unstable work schedules can also lead to inadequate sleep, poor eating habits and relationship or family problems.
Perhaps most alarming is that financial insecurity makes it difficult for workers to turn down job calls even during irregular hours or when exhausted. These could only be aggravated by the rising cost of living.
Planning the future of workspaces with empathy
The argument often-cited by advocates of zero-hours contracts is that the provide flexibility for both employers and workers. However, the flexibility can be heavily skewed in favour of the employer. Employers benefit largely from this as they can adjust staffing to cover absences or sudden fluctuations in workload without having to pay staff when not working or going through procedures for termination. Whilst zero hours workers do, in theory, have the freedom to turn down work, the reality is that when work is insecure, there is a greater motivation to accept work when offered in case it’s not available in the future. Furthermore, some employers often make it clear that it is accepted zero hours workers will accept work when offered.
The World Economic Forum explains that empathy in business yields concrete results. Employees whose well-being is prioritized, report greater engagement and innovation at work, making it an effective business strategy. UK-based talent acquisition and job recruitment solutions provider LHH explains that when promoting mental and physical well-being, it’s important to approach policy formation with a collaborative engagement strategy. This means finding out what conditions can make zero-hours workers most productive and healthy and finding a way to work around that together.
How to improve zero-hours working conditions
Ultimately, critical issues affecting the mental and physical health of zero-hours workers can be addressed by making simple policy changes What we had found is that many workers have worked for years on regular hours that are not guaranteed, When things get tough suddenly, such as during the pandemic and lockdown, zero hours workers suddenly find themselves without an income that they had come to expect.
Employers should be empathetic to this by aspiring for greater income and job security for their workers. Changing the structure of work, for instance, can be largely stabilising. Scheduling shifts two weeks in advance or paying for shifts cancelled by the employer at short notice can eradicate the volatility of zero-hours contracts. This can also leave workers with enough time to prioritise other aspects of their lives. Offering fixed-hours contracts to reflect the actual hours worked can also increase security.
Zero-hours contracts, if implemented correctly, can be largely beneficial to both workers and employers. But where the pitfalls of these jobs occur are in areas lacking empathy. By putting the needs of workers at the centre, employers can ensure that no one working under them would struggle needlessly.
Exclusively written for Zero Hours Justice by Alison Woods, a freelance writer with a passion for helping readers rethink the modern workplace. When she’s not working, she’s probably enjoying a cup of tea with one or two cats on her lap.
ZERO HOURS JUSTICE IN SCOTLAND
Across Scotland and other parts of the United Kingdom (UK), families are suffering a cost of living crisis. As the cost of everyday essentials such as food, gas, electricity and clothing soar, more and more people struggle to make ends meet.
The situation is made much worse for the millions of workers who are employed on zero hours contracts, with no guaranteed hours of work. These workers have no idea what their weekly or monthly pay will be. They are unable to plan ahead, budget or make concrete financial plans. Securing a mortgage, tenancy or credit is almost impossible.
The lack of a regular work routine impacts on caring responsibilities and family time. It leaves them open to last minute changes of shifts, with employers reducing or increasing hours with little notice. All round it makes life more difficult for employees, workers and their families.
But zero hours contracts are also bad for employers. They make it more difficult to retain staff, who are likely to become demoralise and leave for more regular, secure, perhaps better paid work. All of this is bad for business. All the evidence shows that having a secure job, with good terms and conditions improves working relations, creates an atmosphere of mutual respect and loyalty and increases productivity. There are no losers when companies employ people in a fair and just way.
Unity Consulting Scotland was set up a year ago as a not-for-profit, social enterprise to work with community groups, trade unions and voluntary organisations who campaign for social and economic justice. We are delighted to be working with Zero Hours Justice to extend the reach of the campaign in Scotland. What Zero Hours Justice is trying to achieve aligns with our values and our beliefs. We want to see a society where everyone is valued equally. Where no one goes hungry or cold. Where every citizen can live a life free of poverty, low pay and insecurity. Where employees are valued and respected with a legally secure contract, regular hours and fair terms and conditions. A society where we can all contribute to making our communities secure, happy and content.
Over the coming weeks and months we will be encouraging employers to ditch zero hours contracts and to register for Zero Hours Justice accreditation. By doing so, we will promote and celebrate employers who take this positive step. If you are one of the millions of workers on zero hours contracts and need advie, you can contact Zero Hours Justice' helpline on 01904 900 151. If you are an employer who wants help and advice on accreditation, then please get in touch with Chris Peace at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the accreditation website.
play exposes the plight of precarious work: “ABOUT MONEY” AT THE 2022 EDINBURGH FRINGE FESTIVAL.
A new play showing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival lays bare the impact of insecure work, zero hours contracts and poverty pay on workers who are in the front line of the cost-of-living crisis.
Zero Hours Justice is extremely proud to sponsor “About Money”, a play written and performed by 65% Theatre. It tells the story of “Shaun”, an average 18 year old boy who is the sole carer to his 8 year old sister, “Sophie”. Under pressure from his unsympathetic boss at work and trying to find enough money for childcare, he finds himself forced to make decisions that could have devastating consequences.
“About Money” presents a very real, powerful and accurate depiction of the daily struggles and dreadful consequences experienced by workers on zero hours contracts. In Scotland there are around 63,000 workers on zero hours contracts, struggling to get by on poverty wages.
Our Zero Hours Justice Free Help and Support Service hears every week from zero hours workers unable to buy food, pay their rent or fuel bills or care for their children or elderly relatives due to a lack of shifts or insufficient notice of them.
We hope that the play will help highlight our campaign and encourage more businesses to sign up to the Zero Hours Justice Accreditation Scheme, a free scheme which promotes employers who choose to value their workers by not using zero hours contracts.
Following a recent decision by the UK Supreme Court, workers on zero hours contracts could be entitled to more annual leave that what they have previously been getting
In Brazel v The Harper Trust (2022), the Supreme Court ruled that hourly-paid employees and workers who work throughout the year, but not necessarily every week, are to be treated as “part-year workers” and so should be entitled to the full holiday entitlement of 5.6 weeks.
Previously, many employers of zero hours workers would calculate the holiday entitlement by multiplying the total number of hours worked in the year by 12.07%. That percentage was often used as a rule of thumb because it was the proportion of total holiday entitlement (5.6 weeks) out of the total number of working weeks in the year (52 – 5.6).
However, in Brazel, the Supreme Court has said that by using 12.07% of total hours worked, employers were effectively capping the holiday entitlement of those who do not work every work to below 5.6 weeks.
Since workers on zero hours contracts are now entitled to 5.6 weeks, even if they do not work every week, the only legitimate method for calculating holiday pay is the Calendar Week method. Each time a zero hours worker requests annual leave, the employer has to work out the average weekly pay over the last 52 weeks, excluding any weeks the worker did not work. If a worker takes a week’s holiday, they should be paid an average week’s pay.
The amount of holiday already taken during the holiday year should be deducted from 5.6 to give the outstanding entitlement.
It is now unlawful for an employer to roll up accrued holiday pay with your pay in each pay period. But if your employer does happen to do that, and is calculating your entitlement as 12.07%, then it is possible that you are being underpaid if you do not work every week.
Obviously, if zero hours worker wants to take part of a week as annual leave, it’s important to understand what constitutes a day. A zero hours worker may not necessarily be working 7-8 hours in per shift – some may work four or five hours, for example, others may work 12 hours, depending on their job. Since “day” is not defined in law, then what constitutes a day’s leave depends very much on the individual context. If a typical shift is for a particular worker is, say, four hours, then one day’s leave would be four hours.
It’s important to note that the decision in Brazel does not apply to part-time workers, who are contracted to work fixed hours or days every week, just not five days a week. A part-time worker who works, for example, three days per week, would be entitled to 3x5.6 weeks’ leave (16.8 days or 3/5 of 28 days).
Furthermore, the judgement does not apply to those workers who are genuinely casual workers - someone whose casual worker agreement states they are a casual worker, each assignment is a separate contract and a P45 is issued at the end of each assignment. However, Zero Hours Justice is aware, however, that many employers employer casual workers in a way that is far from casual. Whether a casual worker can claim to be a part-year worker depends on the day to day reality and, in particular, whether there was a continued umbrella of employment or an expectation that the employment relationship continued during weeks when there was no work.
If you are currently on a zero hours contract and believe that your employer has calculated your holiday pay incorrectly, you may be able to bring a claim for unlawful deduction of wages. You would need to submit the claim to the employment tribunal within three months less a day of the date that the incorrect holiday payment was made.
For more information or advice about zero hours contracts, please feel free to call our free national helpline or contact us via our online form.
Following advice and support provided by Zero Hours Justice, a zero hours worker has won her employment tribunal claim against Turner Contemporary for redundancy pay.
In January 2021, at the height of the Covid pandemic, the Margate-based art gallery laid off around 40 casual workers following restructuring. Zero Hours Justice was contacted by a number of casual workers, who had worked for Turner Contemporary for a number of years on a regular basis and felt that they should have received redundancy pay.
Casual workers, who are supposed to work on an ad hoc basis, do not usually benefit from employment rights such as redundancy pay and protection from unfair dismissal. Some of the casual workers who contacted Zero Hours Justice were able to reach settlements using Acas’ early conciliation service.
However, one casual worker, Jan Wheatley (“the claimant”), was so outraged at the treatment by Turner Contemporary (“the respondent”) that she decided to go to court to expose it. She had been working for the art gallery for 10 years when her contract was terminated.
The respondent’s casual worker agreement made it clear that work was not guaranteed and workers were not obliged to accept work when offered. However, the employment tribunal found that the wording of the agreement did not reflect the claimant’s day-to-day working reality and that, in practice, she was an employee and so entitled to redundancy pay.
Ms Wheatley said: “There is no way I would (or could) have had the confidence and strength to attend a tribunal hearing, without the support and guidance of Zero Hours Justice.
“I was advised by ACAS that representing myself would not be wise, and that the respondent's attempts to settle would be seen as conciliatory; I did not have the experience or skills required to present an adequate case and that would put me at risk of having to pay the respondent's legal bill after almost inevitably losing.
“Although Zero Hours Justice was unable to provide legal representation, they were more than willing to read over my notes, make suggestions and give valuable feedback and guide me through the legal jargon with expert knowledge and the crucial insight necessary for me to navigate a completely unfamiliar and complicated system.
“Zero Hours Justice may be best known for their campaign activity but they were the backbone in my fight, and played a very real, very substantial role in my subsequent win.”
It’s important to note that this judgement in Wheatley v Turner Contemporary (2022) turned very much on the specific circumstances of the claimant’s employment. It does not create a general rule for casual workers and redundancy payment. But hopefully, it can show how casual workers and other workers on zero hours contracts may, in reality, be employees and entitled to the associated statutory rights.
Some of the key facts that led to the judge deciding that the claimant was an employee were as follows:
The judge also concluded that section 212(3) of the Employment Rights Act 1996 applied to closures of the gallery in-between exhibitions to preserve the claimant’s continuity of service as the closures only led to temporary cessations in work. Once the gallery reopened, the claimant’s was offered work.
Turner Contemporary has decided not to appeal the decision.
For more information or advice about zero hours contracts, please feel free to call our free national helpline or contact us via our online form.
By Julian Richer, Founder, Zero Hours Justice
This article was first published in The Sunday Times on 15 May 2022 as part of a regular weekly column.
What was a wealthy capitalist doing giving a speech at Congress House, the TUC’s headquarters in London? The mood was sober. The audience were looking me up and down rather apprehensively. Luckily, I had brought some friends along for moral support.
It was January 13, 2020, and I was there to talk about what I saw as a scourge on society. I was firmly on their side. By the end of my nine-minute talk, I felt I had won the audience over — admittedly by trying a little humour, not always easy when discussing a matter of gravity for many. But I was preaching to the converted, after all.
I was talking about zero-hours contracts.
These ghastly things are occasionally harmless; if a student works a few irregular hours a week in a bar, they are absolutely fine — as long as these people have other income to live on (I am not talking about short-term contracts for pop festivals, summer jobs etc, because here everyone knows where they stand). But it is estimated that a majority of 1 million-odd zero-hours contract workers don’t have that luxury. They are mostly women and have had these contracts imposed on them, or felt forced to sign them when alternative work was not available. This is no different to dockers standing on the quayside waiting for bosses to come along in their trucks to offer them a day’s work if they were lucky. If they weren’t picked, they went hungry. That was 100 years ago — and little has changed. I feel for these people.
Research has found that workers on zero-hours contracts are at greater risk of psychological distress and being unhappy than those in full-time jobs. Do we really want stressed, demotivated and disgruntled staff?
But they’re lucky to have jobs, aren’t they? What’s all the fuss about?
Fine. But try renting a flat when you can’t provide evidence of regular income. Even decent, ethical landlords won’t touch you with a bargepole.
The outcome is that some of our hardest-working and most wonderful carers, many of whom don’t even earn the real living wage, literally end up living on the breadline and in debt. Some have to sleep in their cars.
Is this the society we want? Where are these workers supposed to live? Social housing stock is like gold dust, with 8 million Britons living in overcrowded, unaffordable and unsuitable conditions (according to the Church of England’s independent housing commission).
Another example: a single mum, trying to juggle her busy life and keen to work, arranges childcare. She goes to work but after a couple of hours the boss says: “Sorry, love, it’s quiet today — I’m going to send you home early.” What the hell?! She has earned no money and yet still has childcare costs to pay. This is just not fair.
The imbalance of power between bosses and workers is always there. In my opinion, the latter group’s vulnerability is multiplied many times over by zerohours contracts. If bullying or harassment is occurring in a workplace, it is going to be much harder for those not on permanent contracts to speak out about any mistreatment. They just won’t get any hours the next week.
Annoyingly, when universal credit recipients are trying to work with the uncertainty of a zero-hours contract, this makes it doubly difficult, with their income changing all the time
How come only a quarter of countries in the EU even allow the damn things? They are a great source of poverty and misery. We should be ashamed.
So, if you are an employer using zero-hours contracts, please consider binning them. If you are not ready to do that, or your business is a special case and really needs them (such as an events company working only on sporadic dates), please switch to a “fairer hours” contract that gives two weeks’ notice of shifts — with the worker being paid if they are cancelled within that period.
I promise this will be to your benefit. Your staff will feel happier and more secure. They will be less stressed, less likely to leave you or not show up for shifts, and be more loyal. Trust me.
Postscript: the Daily Telegraph kindly sent along a journalist to cover my speech. Supposedly, this was the first visit by a Telegraph staffer to Congress House in living memory. They dutifully published a piece about my rallying call, with a nice photo of TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady smiling behind me while I was holding forth. I was there to launch the Zero Hours Justice campaign, which I had set up to try and change this abhorrent practice.
You can download a PDF copy of the article below:
PRESS RELEASE: We need an employment bill now - TUC, Zero Hours Justice and Living Wage Foundation call for workers’ rights boost in letter to PM
Without workers’ rights legislation, there will be no effective vehicle for delivering necessary reforms in the workplace, letter warns
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady, Zero Hours Justice founder and business leader Julian Richer and Living Wage Foundation director Katherine Chapman have today (Thursday) written to the prime minister to call for the government to deliver the employment bill in May’s Queen’s Speech.
The call comes after reports that the government has now shelved the employment bill, more than two years since the legislation was first promised in December 2019, and following multiple commitments to the bill from ministers.
Delivering a boost to workers’ rights “was an urgent task in 2019, when a bill was first announced, and “is even more so today” given the impact of the pandemic, the letter states.
The letter warns that “failing to bring forward an employment bill would leave the government without an effective vehicle to make the necessary reforms to the workplace”.
In particular, the signatories demand action on the zero-hour contracts when used abusively.
The TUC says insecure work has become “endemic” in the UK. The union body estimates that one in nine workers – or 3.6 million people – are in insecure work. This includes more than one million on zero-hours contracts, the great majority of them against their will.
The Living Wage Foundation also found that a third (32%) of workers are given less than a week’s notice of their shifts.
The letter concludes that “businesses do best when they treat their workers well”, but says this cannot be achieved without an employment bill – urging the government to reconsider its plans.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:
Time and time again, the prime minister said he would boost workers’ rights.
Julian Richer, founder of the Zero Hours Justice campaign, said:
In my lifetime’s experience of businesses, both large and small, I have found a well-treated workforce is crucial to their success.”
Director of the Living Wage Foundation, Katherine Chapman, said:
We know low pay is affecting millions during this cost-of-living crisis, but the other side of this coin is insecure work. Million more workers and families are struggling to make ends meet due to a lack of hours, with many faced with uncertain shift patterns provided at short notice. This makes it impossible for people to plan their lives, and often comes with additional costs.
The government has given repeated assurances that it would legislate new workplace protections:
Notes to editors:
Letter in full:
Dear Prime Minister,
We are writing to you as leaders of organisations with a range of perspectives on the world of work to urge you to include an employment bill in the forthcoming Queen’s Speech.
Your government came to office with a promise to “protect and enhance” workers’ rights and a manifesto pledge to bring forward “measures that protect those in low-paid work and the gig economy”.
This was an urgent task in 2019, when a bill was first announced, and is even more so today given the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on workers, particularly those in insecure forms of work, and on employers.
Failing to bring forward an employment bill would leave the government without an effective vehicle to make the necessary reforms to the workplace. Many workers would remain in vulnerable working arrangements. Good businesses would be undercut by those prepared to treat workers poorly. And everyone would be left uncertain about progress of government plans in areas from making flexible working the default to the establishment of a single enforcement body.
We are particularly concerned about uses of zero-hours contracts in ways that are abusive.”. For example, the Living Wage Foundation recently found that a third (32%) of workers are given less than a week’s notice of their shifts. This rises to half of those on low wages.
Collective agreements between unions and employers, the Zero Hours Justice’s campaign and the Living Hours accreditation programme all have an important role to play in stopping the abusive use of zero-hours contracts. But these need to be underpinned by robust laws that protect the most vulnerable workers by setting a baseline of standards.
There remains a strong consensus for reform, reflected in the Low Pay Commission’s proposals on notice periods for shifts and compensation for cancelled shifts. We encourage you to reassess these.
The Conservative Party manifesto promised to “make the UK the best place in the world to work”. We are strongly of the view that businesses do best when they treat their workers well. This cannot be achieved without the inclusion of an employment bill in the Queen’s Speech. We urge you to reconsider your plans.
Frances O’Grady, TUC general secretary
Katherine Chapman, director of the Living Wage Foundation
Julian Richer, Zero Hours Justice founder
By Pravin Jeyaraj
It is commonly known that the main problem with zero hours contracts is that workers do not know whther they have work from one day or one week to the next.
This level of insecurity can result in a great deal of anxiety as people on zero hours contracts, who are often on low incomes too, do not know whether they will be able afford to pay the bills each month.
However, one issue that gets significantly less attention is the notice period required to terminate a zero hours contract.
The default legal position is that there is no notice period to terminate a zero hours contract. If worker wants to leave straightaway, they can. Similarly, if an employer runs out of work, they can let go zero hours workers straightaway,
However, Zero Hours Justice have received numerous enquiries from people who are on contracts that are quite clearly zero hours contracts - no obligation for employer to offer work, no obligation for worker to accept work - but still include a contractual notice period of anywhere from a week to a month.
On the one hand, we've heard from zero hours workers who want to leave straightaway or within a week, but are told by their employer that they have serve a month's notice, as per the contract.
On the other hand, we have also heard from zero hours workers who have a contractual notice period of a a month, but whose contracts are terminated with less than a week's notice. The employer relies upon the zero hours nature of the contract and ignores the provisions about notice periods, thereby preventing the worker earning income from shifts that had already been agreed.
The irony is that workers are still free to turn down work when it is offered and employers have no obligation to offer work, thus rendering a contractual notice period somewhat redundant.
It seems that a lot of employers are trying to have their cake and eat it. They want the "flexibility" of a zero hours contract, if it benefits them, but they are not willing to grant the same flexibility to the worker.
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Images can be downloaded from here. Image of Julian Richer should be credited to Gerardo Jaconelli.