A group of MPs and trade union Unite have called for a blanket ban on unpaid trial shifts. Unite claim that there has been a six-fold increase in complaints in connection to this practice over the last three years.
Although it is not overly controversial for a prospective employee to be asked to have a trial to aid the employer in assessing their core skills, it has can tip over into exploitation if they are asked to work particularly long shifts or where there is no or little of a job at the end. Currently, there is legislation that covers ‘excessively long’ trial shifts, but Stewart McDonald the SNP MP for Glasgow South who has been campaigning on this issue and introduced the bill in parliament, has said this isn’t working and companies are asking people to carry out trial shifts for work that doesn’t exist and in some cases simply to cover staff absences. Those who have been subject to these trials have also said that as they are in a weaker position and looking for a job, they are not able to push back against employers if they ask them to work a long unpaid shift.
The Federation of Small Businesses has defended the practice and said that it can be a vital part of the recruitment process and given the costs associated with increasing headcount, businesses need to make sure that they don’t make the wrong decision. They do acknowledge however that employers need to be careful not to be exploitative.
It will be interesting to see whether this Private Members Bill does go any further, currently on its second reading, as the exploitation of workers, particularly those in the hospitality sector, is a hot topic at the moment following the Taylor Review and the recent stories of companies failing to pay the National Minimum Wage. At the moment and until anything changes there is nothing illegal about asking a candidate to take part in a trial shift, but on moral and reputational grounds it may be advisable to either set out the terms of the trial clearly before it begins, set a limit on the number of unpaid hours, or indeed just pay for all hours worked.