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Zero hours contracts emerged as a hot topic during this year’s General Election and the new Government has already started making changes in this area of employment law.
Primarily used for casual workers, the general understanding of a zero hours contract is that an employer does not have to provide minimum working hours to the worker, whilst many contracts also expect workers to be available to work when it is offered.
For years zero hours contracts have allowed for a flexible workforce, traditionally for seasonal work or to cover short term staff shortages. That said, there is now concern that zero hours contracts are being used in areas where they are not suitable, because they put workers at risk of missing out on benefits such as paid holidays and sick pay.
The Government has started to clamp down on zero hours contracts. Since the end of May 2015, exclusivity clauses in zero hours contracts, which prevent an individual from working for another employer even if their contracting employer cannot offer them work, have been unenforceable under the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015.
In addition, although the secondary legislation is not yet in place, the Act also allows the Government to introduce a protection from detriment for zero hours contract workers who take jobs under other contracts, and a guaranteed minimum pay level, below which exclusivity clauses will be unenforceable generally.
We will see if the Government goes these steps further. In the meantime, employers who use zero hours contracts should review their contracts noting that any exclusivity clauses in them will no longer be enforceable.
Senior Solicitor – Employment Law