Zero hours contracts are more and more common and seem to be constantly in the news. If you find yourself on a zero hours contract, what are your rights?
According to the Office of National Statistics, some 250,000 people in the UK are on zero hours contracts, whilst the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development estimates this figure is closer to 1 million. What is different about these contracts from ordinary contracts of employment and can these really work for you?
Zero hours contracts are employment contracts which do not give the worker a set amount of hours that they are entitled to receive work. Under the zero hour contract, the hours you are required to work may be different each week and you have the option of either accepting these hours or declining to work these hours. However, you’re only paid for the hours you work.
According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, 18-24 year olds are most likely to be employed on zero hours contracts.
The benefits for workers are that these hours allow flexibility. Many students, for example, find zero hours contracts enable them to fit their studies around working. For businesses, the benefit for using such contracts is that it means that they are saving money as they are only employing the workers they need, when they need them.
The Zero hour contract tends to be of benefit more to the employer than the worker. The main negatives to these contracts are that you don’t have a steady income. You are paid as and when you’re needed, making managing your finances awkward. Furthermore, if you are a parent, arranging suitable childcare can be almost impossible. Finally, it could also mean that getting a mortgage or credit card can be difficult as you have no confirmed salary to disclose to creditors.
As zero hours contracts are as yet relatively rare, people aren’t quite sure what their rights are and it’s therefore open to abuse. For example, there are concerns that workers who are seen as ‘good’ (those who accept shifts) will be offered more work more regularly than workers who are deemed as ‘bad’ (those who turn shifts down.)
Workers on zero hours contracts are not entitled to a pension and getting holiday may be difficult.
Under a zero hours contract you’re entitled to:
You may not be aware, but people who are on a zero hour contract will not have the same rights as people on traditional contracts. People on more traditional contracts are often referred to as employees, whilst people on zero hours contracts are referred to as workers. However, how you are described in your contract is not the only factor which determines what you are legally entitled to.
An Employee- a person employed under a contract of employment with set hours and is unable to reject work requested of them.
A Worker- a worker also has a contract but can accept or reject any work offered. If they do reject work, they should not face any extra penalties (such as not being offered work again). How the law determines what you are is important as it determines what rights you have legally with regards to your employment and things such as maternity pay, holiday and sick leave.
IMPORTANT: If your work becomes more regular, your rights change. If you are given the same shifts every week, legally you are seen as a traditional employee (not a zero hours contract worker.) This only applies if you have the same shifts for a number of months.
If you’re offered a zero hour contract, there are a few things to look out for.
Check if you HAVE to take the hours offered- some contracts stipulate that you are required to take the hours offered. If this is the case, think carefully, there may be times when you are unable to work and will have to turn down shifts.
Holiday Pay- make sure your contract includes holiday pay entitlement. If not, question your employer on your rights and make sure you get this in writing.
Contract wording- are you referred to as ‘an employee’ or ‘a worker’. A worker does not have the same rights as an employee. If unsure, contact the Citizens Advice Bureau for further advice.
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