Zero-hours contracts

Last updated: 17 Oct 2022

A zero-hours contract is one with no minimum set hours. The employer can call the worker in when needed. The worker has no guarantee of work or pay in any particular week.

Bectu is strongly opposed to the use of these contracts and the insecurity and unfairness that is endemic in their use.

Many Bectu members work on contracts with no minimum or guaranteed hours. These are often described as freelance, consultants, or sessional workers. The term ‘zero hours’ may not be used as frequently as in many other sectors, but the impact is just the same.

In theory, there is no obligation on a zero-hours contract worker to accept offers to work, but in reality if they do not, they are unlikely to be called in again. The so-called flexibility is only one-way.

Employers don’t believe that a zero-hours contract means the worker has no legal rights. This makes zero-hours contracts very attractive to the employer.

But workers on zero-hours contracts have:

  • serious insecurity
  • extreme variation in pay
  • a reduced means of challenging unfairness.

In many cases zero-hours contract workers do have statutory rights. The term ‘zero hours’ has no specific legal meaning. An employment tribunal has to determine the legal status of the contract and apply a range of established factors, such as the means of payment, degree of supervision, obligation to do and provide work, and whether a substitute could be sent along.

Applying these tests, tribunals have often determined that the reality of the situation is that there is an obligation on the person and they are in fact employees or workers with legal rights at work.

We have challenged this in many cases and have secured acceptance that the workers are, in fact, employees with full rights, despite varying hours of work.

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