‘Zero-hours’ contracts to come under parliament’s microscope

Earlier this month, the parliamentary Scottish Affairs Committee decided to launch an inquiry into zero-hours contracts in Scotland, after hearing what it felt was ‘compelling evidence’ from the Unite union about zero-hours contracts being unfair, creating insecurity and exploiting many ordinary people struggling to get by.

The Committee, concerned about the current growth of zero-hours contracts, has now launched a consultation into the issues.

The consultation is the latest in a line of enquiries into zero-hours contracts, which refer to an employment contract in which the employee is not guaranteed work, and is paid only for work carried out. Zero-hours workers can be ‘phoned in’ by the employer or even turn up to be told they are not needed that day, as their contract does not stipulate any contracted hours. This means an ultra-flexible workforce for employers, but has led to serious questions from many, including the employees involved, about whether the practice is ethical.

Many high street brand names currently make use of zero-hours contracts on a large scale across the UK, with over 83,000 McDonalds staff, 24,000 JD Wetherspoon staff and 20,000 Sports Direct staff making up some of the UK workforce governed by the contract stipulation.

The Select Committee will be investigating the following elements of zero-hours contracts, as well as trying to answer other questions:

  • How widespread they are, with a focus on Scotland.
  • In which sectors or areas are zero hours contracts especially common?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of these contracts for (a) employers and (b) workers?
  • What is the practical effect of zero hours contracts on the workers who are contracted, and on other employees?
  • Are zero hours contracts affecting workers in Scotland disproportionately, for instance because of distances travelled or patterns of employment?
  • Are zero hours contracts replacing agency work? What is the difference between them for the worker?
  • Are people who are on zero hours contracts, and employers who use them, aware of their obligations and their rights?
  • What support is available to people negatively affected by zero hours contracts?
  • Under a zero hours contract, a worker should be able to turn down work; is this possible for workers to do in practice?
  • Are benefit claimants obliged to accept zero hours contracts?
  • Are there any other types of contracts or employment arrangements that are a cause for concern?

The deadline for responses to the consultation is 14 October 2013, and anyone wishing to submit evidence can do so via the Scottish Affairs Committee website.

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