Springhouse Solicitors

Analysis – zero hours contracts and the proposed ‘right to request’

A topic that is currently receiving much attention, not least because of the forthcoming general election, is that of ‘zero hours’ contracts.

As we reported earlier this year, Matthew Taylor is conducting a review of modern working practices and the so called ‘gig’ economy, on behalf of the government. Part of this review is an examination of zero hours contracts and their current use in the U.K., where it is estimated that around 900,000 workers are currently engaged under these contracts.

It is anticipated that the Taylor review will propose putting in place a ‘right to request’ guaranteed hours for those currently on zero hours contracts. This will be much like the current arrangements where all employees have the right to request flexible working.

Businesses would then have to give serious consideration to the request and provide the worker with reasons for their decision. They would still be able to reject a request, but they would have to provide a good business reason for doing so.

Unions have expressed frustration that these measures do not go far enough to protect those being exploited with zero hours contracts and that this right to request fixed hours will be ineffective and not give any additional rights when compared to those currently available. However, the idea is supported by the Confederation of British Industry (representing employers) who feel these measures will maintain a necessary flexibility for employers whilst still offering increased protection for workers.

Although the full findings of the Taylor review are due to be released later in June, it is widely anticipated that it will highlight how zero hours contracts are being used by some businesses to exploit workers. However, the review will also recognise that these contracts do fulfil a need in the modern workplace and that some workers do appreciate the flexibility they provide.

The upcoming election result may also have an impact, with each party having made various pledges in their manifestos on how they envisage dealing with zero hours contracts. Interestingly, Labour has promised to ban zero hours contracts, so the findings of the Taylor review may prove to be less significant should Labour be elected. See here for our article about the election manifesto promises and how they impact upon employment rights.