Zero-hours contracts ‘unfairly demonised’

Published on Tuesday, 26 November 2013 10:07
Written by Daniel Mason

The majority of people on zero-hours contracts are happier with their work-life balance than other workers and just as satisfied with their job, a report published today has claimed.

According to the CIPD study, the controversial contracts – which do not guarantee set hours of work from one week to the next – are "oversimplified and unfairly demonised" and offer welcome flexibility for individuals and organisations.

The CIPD survey of more than 2,500 people found that 65 per cent of those on zero-hours contracts are happy with their work-life balance, compared with 58 per cent of others. Meanwhile 60 per cent of zero-hours workers are satisfied with their job, against 59 per cent among others.

Fewer zero-hours workers than other employees say they are treated unfairly by their employers, by 27 per cent to 29 per cent. And 52 per cent of those on zero-hours do not want to work more hours than they typically do.

But the research also highlights problems with the contracts, with one in five workers saying they are sometimes or always penalised if they are unavailable for work, and half saying they receive no notice when work is cancelled.

The report concludes that about one million workers are on the contracts.

Peter Cheese, chief executive of the CIPD, said: "The use of zero-hours contracts in the UK economy has been underestimated, oversimplified and in some cases, unfairly demonised. Our research shows that the majority of people employed on these contracts are satisfied with their jobs.

"However, we also recognise that there is a need to improve poor practice in the use of zero-hours contracts, for example the lack of notice many zero-hours staff receive when work is cancelled. If this is unavoidable then employers should at least provide some level of compensation."

The findings were rejected by the trade union Unite, whose assistant general secretary Steve Turner said the report was "divorced from the realities of daily exploitation of those on these obscene contracts".

He added: "The reality is that we are the seventh richest nation on our planet and there should be no place for such gross exploitation in the UK. Companies can well afford to employ people with dignity on proper contracts, with decent pay and guaranteed hours.

"Employers use zero hours contracts to cut wages, avoid holiday pay, pensions, and other benefits enjoyed by employees and agency staff. Workers are also unable to take on other work, as they are obliged to be available for work at the whim of the employer. And with the high level of insecurity comes the risk of bullying, harassment and stress.

"They should be scrapped and we will be strongly campaigning to see that they are in the months ahead."

Labour's shadow minister for trade and investment, Ian Murray, said the party would "outlaw the exploitative use of zero-hours contracts".

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