If the employer has no real control over the timing of labour requirements, or has a legitimate reason to require flexibility, than zero-hour contracts are a must.
If the employer is exploiting zero-hour contracts to avoid their responsibilities and legal obligations as an employer, we have a problem.
To drill into these two statements let’s look at some examples. In the event industry the nature of the work means that there are peaks and troughs in terms of labour requirement. There is no point in saying that an individual can be guaranteed a minimum working week of X hours, because if there is no gig, there is no gig. You can’t manufacture a gig to be able to fulfil your commitment to your staff. You can try and annualise hours, but often that can come back to bite you if you don’t win enough contracts to fulfil it. Flexibility here is essential.
Likewise, if your industry is the re-selling of labour on a temporary basis you cannot guarantee your staff hours that client has not requested. Zero-hour contracts are essential for this model to operate, even if the balance swings in favour of the employer and his clients’ requirements over the staff. Without a legitimate method for small amounts of labour to be bought and sold at the entry level of the labour market that section would drift quickly into the black economy, to nobody’s benefit.
That said, exploiting this very necessary entry-level employment type to avoid the legitimate and reasonable expectations of your de-facto full-time staff is reprehensible and immoral, but unfortunately not illegal. It is not beyond the wit of man to be able to forward plan your labour requirements if you run a large retail outlet, or a multiplex cinema chain, or even Buckingham Palace. All you have to do, realistically, is look at last week and repeat with small variations. The opprobrium brought down on the heads of employers for their exploitation of this type of labour is entirely appropriate.
However, the government will have to move cautiously on this if it is not to throw the baby out with the bath water. To completely remove the flexibility of this entry level style contract would have the effect of, not so much improving the working conditions of the young, but making it much harder for young people to gain employment at all. Employers would be much more reluctant to expand their workforce because they know contracting it again during lean times would be much harder. The labour market would become more static, fewer employees would have to lift heavier loads, and yes, once you are in employment you will reap the benefits, but it would prove very difficult to get in at all.
By Ronan Moore.
Ronan Moore is the Managing Director of uTRAC