Cooking up a storm: the zero hours contracts debate

April saw a number of protests across the country concerning the use of zero hours contracts. A significant number of the protests occurred outside fast food outlets – the fast food industry having been identified as a key sector in which zero hours contracts are used.

What is a zero hours contract and why is it controversial?

A zero hours contract is a contract for working under which an employer doesn’t guarantee to provide their employee with any work and pays that employee only for work actually carried out. However, broadly speaking, their employee is expected to be available for work when or if called on by the employer.

The nature of a zero hours contract means that an employee isn’t guaranteed a level of income from one week to the next. An employee could feasibly work 40 hours one week and 10 hours the following week. This can leave employees in a difficult situation when it comes to financial planning/budgeting.

The future:

A number of employees have been left with a sweet taste in their mouths following Restaurant Brands’ decision to end zero hours contracts by July 2015. Restaurant Brands owns a number of businesses including Burger King, Pizza Hut and KFC and it has decided to move away from zero hours contracts to fixed hours contracts.

It remains to be seen what will be the response of other employers. As well, the government has confirmed that this matter is on its radar. It will be interesting to see how far the government is willing to go. Will the government outlaw zero hours contracts completely or perhaps just ban the harshest terms of zero hours contracts (including clauses that allow employers to cancel shifts at short notice or clauses that require an employee to work exclusively for one employer)? For now all we can do is watch this space.

Posted: Wed 17 Jun 2015

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