A matter of time: The rise of zero hours contracts

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Professor Jill Rubery recently spoke at a panel debate, chaired by The Financial Times’ Economics Editor Sarah O’Connor, about the use of controversial zero-hours contracts, under which employees are put on standby and not guaranteed a minimum amount of work.

Zero hours contracts are anything but a new phenomenon – yet the use among UK employers has risen sharply in recent years. For some people a zero hours contract offers welcome choice and flexibility. However, for the majority, this freedom is far from reality particularly in sectors such as domiciliary care work where power imbalances are often acute.

Jill spoke about the issues within the sector where 69% of independent sector care providers only offered zero hours contracts to care staff – meaning no guaranteed hours and no continuous paid work periods.

This is compounded by the squeezing of Local Authority care budgets; with 69% of care providers short of staff for weekend and unsocial hours cover and 43% sometimes putting up with poor performance due to shortage of staff.

Earlier this month the government and the opposition announced they will be reviewing these arrangements: Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, is worried that some companies are abusing the contracts and has asked his officials to review the growth of the contracts in both the private and public sectors. Although he is unlikely to ban them, they could be restricted or workers on them given more protection.

The event examined the impact of zero hours contracts on workers; explored whether their use is likely to persist as the recovery strengthens and asked how these arrangements can be structured so they are used fairly and not solely in the interest of employers.

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