Zero Hour Contracts

Despite the ban on exclusivity clauses in “Zero Hours” contracts, data from the Office of National Statistics shows that the numbers of workers engaged on “Zero Hours” contracts has continued to rise over the past 12 months to around 900,000 (being around 2.9 % of the employed population). However, following a considerable amount of negative publicity, Sports Direct announced on 6th September that it would implement changes enabling staff working on “Zero Hours” contracts to switch to a contract with minimum guaranteed hours.

In a letter to workers, the company’s founder apologised to staff at Sports Direct for some working practices that were highlighted by an internal report. Whilst the practices referred to in the report were not necessarily unlawful, Sports Direct has suffered considerable reputational damage due to media interest for a number of years. The publicity around the issue of “Zero Hours” contracts has also affected the company’s share price.

Following the announcement by Sports Direct, a number of other well known brands have followed suit and offered workers the opportunity to transfer from a “Zero Hours” contract. On 11 September the founder and chairman of the JD Wetherspoon pub chain, Tim Martin, gave a statement to the media confirming that staff would be given the opportunity to switch onto a permanent contract with minimum guaranteed hours.

In turn, the Suffolk brewer Greene King identified that former workers of the Spirit Pub Company, who were acquired by Greene King in 2015, were still engaged on “Zero Hours” contracts and that in line with the rest of the Greene King group, those workers will be transferred to a contract with minimum guaranteed hours. McDonalds is also currently piloting a scheme in some of its restaurants to investigate the feasibility of transferring its staff to contracts with guaranteed hours.

“Zero Hours” contracts attract a lot of negative publicity by their very nature. These recent examples suggest that employers are becoming more aware of the negativity surrounding such contracts and are actively looking at ways of reducing their usage. It remains to be seen whether this will filter down and whether such contracts will start to disappear altogether in the future.

If you have any queries regarding “Zero Hours” contracts, please contact a member of our Employment Department who will be happy to assist you.

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