The Resolution Foundation today weighed in on the zero hours debate with a report suggesting five reforms to tackle concerns over the abuse of zero hours contracts.
As well as the controversial suggestion that workers should have the right to move onto fixed hours contracts, the think tank agreed exclusivity clauses in zero hours contracts should be banned, something the government has mooted in its consultation on the issue. In addition the foundation called for all employees on zero hours contracts to be informed in writing that they have no guarantee of work, saying many workers do not know their situation until their hours are altered.
The foundation also said employers and unions should agree a best practice guide and the government ‘should prioritise enforcement of employment rights and better sharing of information between agencies to deter abuses by employers’.
Vidhya Alakeson, joint author of the report and deputy chief executive of the Resolution Foundation said: “The argument that nothing can be done to address the inappropriate use of zero-hour contracts is as unconvincing as that which says they should just be banned outright.”
She said not all firms misuse the contracts and some staff do prefer them. “These proposals strike a balance, keeping the flexibility that some people value and adding far more security and clarity for workers… it should be possible to protect the rights and conditions of workers without limiting the flexibility of firms.”
The think tank singled out the care sector as that most in need of attention when it comes to reliance on and abuses of zero hours contracts.
However, lawyers said the proposals would not necessarily stop unscrupulous employers. Matthew Kelly, partner and employment specialist at Thomas Eggar LLP, said: “If workers on zero hours contracts are to be automatically afforded the right to a fixed hours deal after 12 months employment, some employers may abuse the system further by terminating the zero hours contract and, for example, giving a break of a few weeks employment before re-engaging the worker on another zero hours contract.”
He added: “The proposed changes are likely to require legislative action, particularly where a legal right to a fixed number of hours is necessary after 12 months employment. This may prove unpalatable for a number of employers. Currently, the right to claim unfair dismissal requires two years continuous employment.”
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