Zero hours – zero rights?
A zero hours contract (ZHC) is one with no minimum set hours. The employer can call the worker in when needed. The worker has no guarantee of work or pay in any particular week. Prospect is strongly opposed to the use of ZHCs and the insecurity and unfairness that is endemic in their use.
There are many Prospect members working on contracts with no minimum or guaranteed hours. These are often described as freelance, consultants, or sessional workers. The term ‘zero hours’ may not be used so frequently as in many other sectors, but the impact is just the same.
In theory there is no obligation on a ZHC worker to accept offers to work, but in reality if they do not they are unlikely to be called in again. The ‘flexibility’ is only one way. Employers contend an absence of an obligation to offer or undertake the work means the worker has no legal rights. This makes ZHCs very attractive to the employer.
But for workers on a ZHC there is:
- serious insecurity
- extreme variation in pay
- a reduced means of challenging unfairness.
In many cases ZHC workers do have statutory rights. ‘Zero hours’ has no specific legal meaning. An Employment Tribunal has to determine the legal status of the contract and apply a range of established factors, such as the means of payment, degree of supervision, obligation to do and provide work, and whether a substitute could be sent along.
Applying these tests, tribunals have often determined that the reality of the situation is that there is an obligation on the worker and they are in fact employees or workers with legal rights at work.
Prospect has challenged this in many cases and has secured acceptance that the workers are in fact employees with full rights, despite varying hours of work.