July 29, 2014

Are workers exploited with zero hours contracts?

Are companies taking advantage of employees on zero hours contracts?

Do zero hours contracts reduce costs and help but help with flexibility at the employee’s expense? Or do they provide flexibility for both employer and employee?

Such contracts provide employees who have study commitments, caring responsibilities and childcare commitments flexibility to improve their life versus work balance and reduce their hours when working towards their retirement.  The contracts also assist companies during difficult periods concerning work availability.

It is true they may meet the company’s needs without having to resort to lay-offs, but the employee is disadvantaged due to the decision of being able to offer work to an employee lying solely with the company with work not being guaranteed.  This places many employees in an unstable position.

Such zero hours contracts also prevent employees the potential for training and development, especially younger employees.  Employees are also unable to budget on a monthly basis and could result in them having to seek employment elsewhere.

Zero hours contracts are used mainly by larger companies to minimise costs rather than for their flexibility to both employee and employer.

However, despite the negatives mentioned above, if and when these contracts are used correctly, zero hours contracts can benefit both the employee and employer due to the flexibility element.

Many employees value flexible work options, decreasing levels of stress and increasing time with children and family members.

There is an argument that flexible hours can improve productivity at work because employees are happier.

To obtain the benefits which can be associated with zero hours contracts, best practice must be adhered to, in order to avoid companies exploiting employees, with companies behaving responsibly towards them.

However, Unite the union believe that zero hours contracts in the workplace are an attack on an employee’s rights and dignity, believing employees are being exploited with no security on weekly hours and income which they are encouraging people to challenge by  submitting their views to their local MPs.

The union believes companies use the zero hours contracts to cut wages, avoid paying holiday pay and pensions with employees having to be available for work at the company’s beck and call, and being unable to take other employment at the same time.  Employees it is believed are also placed at risk of bullying, harassment and stress.

Zero hours contracts have doubled in the last five years involving a known 1.4 million people, but the union believes many more people are unaware they are on such a contract.

MPs debated the issue on 16.10.13 and called for the Government to initiate a full consultation, evidence and proposals to prevent abuse of such zero hours contracts.

MPs want employees to be able to – a) work for more than one employer at the same time, b) avoid having to be available for the employer with no guarantee of work, c) banning zero hours contracts if the employee is working regular hours each week.

Research shows the number of employees on zero hours contracts that feel insecure in work today has doubled compared to three years ago. One labour MP believes the zero hours contract is a throwback to the 1930s when miners and dockers had to turn up for work not knowing if they would secure any work that day.

Zero hours contracts used to be the exception to the rule, but are now becoming the norm, which mainly only benefit the companies.  Due to the stress and insecurity associated with zero hours contracts, such employees may not deliver the same quality of work or be as motivated as they would be if they were employed on a well paid secure contract.

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