According to figures released by the Resolution Foundation, a social policy think-tank, the number of people on zero hours contracts reached an all-time high of 910,000 during the final quarter of 2016.

As this article demonstrates, there is wide spread concern about the use of these types of contract. I am sure we can all remember the negative publicity that surrounded Sports Direct’s use of zero hours contracts, which ultimately lead to the sports retailer changing their working practices.

So what is a zero hours contract?

Under a zero hours contract an employer does not guarantee any minimum level of work to an individual and only pays them for the work they do. They can be offered to both workers and employees with both groups benefiting from certain minimum rights including the right to the national minimum wage, paid annual leave, sick pay and protection from discrimination.

Is there any stopping them?

On the face of it, it seems we’re experiencing an unstoppable rise in the use of zero hours contracts. But is that actually the case? As the article points out, the use of zero hour’s contracts actually declined over the second half of 2016 when compared with the same period in 2015 which seems to suggest a move away from this sort of contract. A number of reasons have been proposed for this including concerns from employers about the negative publicity these working arrangements can attract and potential difficulties with the supply of labour from the EU following Brexit.

Are they all bad?

Whilst there are undoubtedly instances of them being used inappropriately, when they are used in the right situations zero hours contracts can offer individuals welcome flexibility over their working hours. As this article points out, almost half of the increase over the past 12 months has been among workers aged 55-65. Lots of individuals in this group use zero hour’s contracts to help ease their way in to retirement. Likewise, parents who may find it difficult to commit to set hours of work also benefit from the flexibility zero hour’s contracts provide.

Whether we like it or not, employment practices are changing. Developments in technology are allowing employers to access ever greater pools of workers who are available on demand 24/7. The challenge is to make sure the law keeps pace with the speed of these developments. 

The Government announced a review of modern employment practices back in October 2016. As part of that review the Government is going to look at the use of zero hours contracts. It will be interesting to see what recommendations come out of the review.