What the Dickens, Zero-hours contracts?

According to the ONS, zero-hour contracts appear to form part of the ‘those who are employed’ stats. But are zero hours contracts representative of unscrupulous employer behaviour? Or is what the next generation of workers actually want?

It is almost Christmas present 2021, and all over this fair land workers are spending their hard-earned wages on presents, decorations, mince pies and turkeys – will not have a bad word said about the vegans or vegetarians. But what about all those on zero-hour contracts, will they be cut adrift like Bob Cratchit or is the reality more Mr Fezziwig?

Forgive this author his flights of fantasy and dip into Dickensian life, the rewards, treatment and wellbeing of employees has never been more serious. Victorian factory practices and worker exploitation should have long since been abolished, sadly even in the UK we know that is not the case, but are zero hours contracts part of the problem or the beginning of the solution?

Prior to the introduction of the Working Time Regulations 1998 and the National Minimum Wage Regulations 1999, zero-hour contracts were sometimes used to “clock-off” staff during quiet periods but from 2000 onwards they have been, well, marmite. ONS records from the end of that year reveal that there were around 225,000, or 0.8% of the working population engaged on this employment status.

Trade unions and workers groups have subsequentially been fierce critics with The Labour Party’s 2017 and 2019 General Election manifesto containing a commitment to prohibit zero hours contracts entirely.

As recently as 2020, Zero Hours Justice, was set up by the President of the BFAWU trade union, Ian Hodson, and supported by the Richer Sounds music shop founder and entrepreneur, Julian Richer.

In contrast, a report published by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) found that zero-hours workers, when compared to the average UK employee, are just as satisfied with their jobs (60% versus 59%), actually, happier with their work-life balance (65% vs 58%); and less likely to think they are treated unfairly by their organisation (27% vs 29%).

The number of employees on zero-hour contracts remained at or below 0.8% until 2012, when it began to climb steadily. By the end of 2019 it hit 3% or just under 975,000 people in work. Not unsurprisingly the pandemic, shut down and furlough saw that number hit its highest level of 3.3% in June 2020. Today the number has fallen, and we have just under 1,000,000 or 3.1% of those working on a zero-hours contract.

Has the rise been driven by greedy and unscrupulous employers? Or has the increase been fuelled by a new generation of job seekers who want to work more flexibly and who view a job for life as something just so last century? In my opinion it is the latter. Whilst we must never rest on our laurels and accept anything other than the highest standards from employers, it is without doubt a candidate-driven market and if talent demands a zero-hours contract, then that’s what they get.

McKinsey coined the phrase ‘the war for talent’ way back in 1997, twenty five years later and that conflict is set to reach Defcon1. Strap in, buckle up, it’s going to be one hell of a ride with talent solutions providers on the front line of opportunity.

Other Blog Posts by this Author

What the Dickens, Zero-hours contracts?

According to the ONS, zero-hour contracts appear to form part of the ‘those who are employed’ stats. But are zero...