Zero hours contracts: good flexible working or staff abuse?

In theory, Zero Hours contracts should be a good thing – they allow employees to take off the time that they need, and they allow employers to deal with variations in demand.  But some employers do seem to be abusing them – we see reports on the BBC website recently of staff who start the week expecting to work (and presumably earn for) 40hrs, only to find that by the end of the week they have only done 12hrs.  It is simply unrealistic to believe that low-paid workers (such as many of those on Zero-Hours terms) can cope with a 70% reduction in expected income.

I know the argument is that employers suffer short-term fluctuations in demand, and it is uneconomical for them to keep fixed-hours staff busy when that happens.  Even so, that level of fluctuation seems excessive.  My suspicion is one of two things is happening: either bosses are ‘looking after’ favoured flexi workers and leaving others short of hours, or the whole zero-hours thing is being used instead of proper planning.  Seriously, what kind of operation has so little understanding of its resourcing needs, or so poor a relationship with its customers, that it cannot agree hours with its staff at least a couple of weeks in advance?

I’m not generally in favour of excessive regulation of the employment contract, but I do feel that the pendulum has swung a little too far away from responsible treatment of workers.

If a business is genuinely so unstructured that it cannot commit to giving its staff enough work to make a living doing what they love, then maybe they have a larger problem.  The way to deal with that is to get appropriate advice about making the business more sustainable, not simply passing the risk and cost of flexibility down to low-paid workers, who simply are not equipped to manage it.  Employees want a degree of stability in their work and income – if they didn’t they’d be out there setting up their own operations.

And competing with the ‘employers’ that are currently taking advantage.

About The Author

Andrew Horder

Founder of Joyful Genius Coaching, Andrew has been working with business owners for many years, helping them find and maintain their unique focus - those activities and opportunities that they love, and will produce their success, what Andrew calls your Joyful Genius! Andrew's first book, The A to Z of Loving Work is available from Amazon

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