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Zero hour contracts: Threats of strike action and changes to legislation

BY Anita Mulholland
Employment Law & HR
BG Purple

The zero hour contract furore continues to stir political unrest as trade unions threaten industrial action as part of their general stand against the current situation of jobs, pay and conditions.With the media outcry surrounding this issue, it is not surprising that the TUC were rolling up their sleeves at their recent Bournemouth conference.

The political hot potato continued to take centre stage when Ed Miliband later addressed the conference with his ambitions to reform zero hour contracts and tackle their “exploitation”. He proposed:

  • Stopping zero hour contracts which restrict employees from working with other employers;
  • Addressing contracts which dictate that employees should always be available for work but do not obligate employers to provide work; and
  • Allowing workers who work regular hours to have the right to contract for these hours.


However, despite Ed Miliband’s positive intentions, it remains dubious how such political promises will be drafted into legislation. How does he plan to “stop” these types of zero hour contracts? If employers use them, how will they be sanctioned? Our guess is that such clauses in zero hour contracts will be ineffective and if they are used as a ground to dismiss an employee then the employer may face a claim for automatic unfair dismissal.

It would most certainly be interesting to see how such ambitious proposals will be implemented in practice as there are some clear loopholes which would need to be addressed. For example, what if an employer uses a “1 hour contact” as a means to dodge these provisions entirely? Undoubtedly, it appears that Ed Milliband needs to give his aspirations a little more thought.

Even if the threats of industrial action and legislative reforms are not imminent, it is still clear that the storm over zero hour contracts will continue to brew for some time to come. Therefore it may be wise for employers using these contracts to seek advice to ensure their provisions are watertight.

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