Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Zero-hours contracts are in the news, with the Labour leader announcing plans to require employers to offer regular hours contracts to workers after they have been with a firm for 12 weeks. There is little doubt that some zero-hours contracts are exploitative, but finding an effective solution for the problem is likely to be harder than some would imagine. In particular, we need to be aware of unintended consequences of well-intentioned legislation. If employers were to cancel and later renew contracts with workers around a 12 week limit, the insecurity felt by those currently on zero-hours contracts could be exacerbated.

Not all zero-hours contracts are exploitative. Some offer part-time work on a flexible basis to the benefit of both employer and employee. This is particularly the case where the worker is young and combining work with education, or old and semi-retired. An appropriate test for whether someone should be on such a contract should interrogate the individual circumstances, and should furthermore benchmark one person's experience with that of others undertaking similar work. This could easily be synthesised with job evaluation exercises that are already undertaken as means of preventing discrimination. It may take time to phase in such an approach, but given the existence of similar mechanisms in a slightly different context, it seems that this is a job that is worth doing properly.