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Zero-hour contracts leave many feeling ‘insecure’ – Acas

Many workers on a zero-hours contract feel excluded from the sense of “security, fairness and trust” that’s associated with permanent contracts of employment, a new Acas study has revealed. 

The discussion paper – ‘Give and take? Unravelling the true nature of zero-hours contracts’ – looked at recent research on zero-hours contracts as well as employers and employees that called the Acas helpline about these contracts. 

On average there were 70 calls a week about zero-hours contracts to the helpline, of which 68% came from employees. The research revealed that the use of exclusivity clauses did not emerge as a significant concern amongst callers, but a feeling of ‘effective exclusivity’ did emerge as a major concern. 

What seems uncontentious in the report is that both parties in a zero-hours contract could benefit from more transparency (and better understanding) in relation to the levels of pay, possible working hours, and the other terms and conditions that might apply in particular circumstances. 

Acas stated that there is the need for more research to take a closer look at the relationship between non-standard forms of employment and economic cycles and the impact that outsourcing is having on the use of zero-hour contracts in specific sectors – for example, the contracting out by the NHS and social services. 

Sir Brendan Barber, Acas chair, said:  “A lot of workers on zero-hours contracts are afraid of looking for work elsewhere, turning down hours, or questioning their employment rights in case their work is withdrawn or reduced. This deep rooted 'effective exclusivity' can be very damaging to trust and to the employment relationship.”  

In its response to the BIS consultation on zero-hour contracts, which received over 30,000 responses, the Acas Council recommend new guidance on zero-hours contracts so that both employees and employers are very clear on the working arrangements they are agreeing to. Acas also welcomed the opportunity for Acas to work closely with government on addressing this issue and made further recommendations around the need for further research. 

The business secretary, Vince Cable, said that while zero-hours contracts work for some, the use of exclusivity clauses and the lack of clear information can leave employees feeling vulnerable. 

He said: “I want to make sure those looking to work flexibly under these types of contracts understand their rights and are not prevented from topping up their income by being tied exclusively to one employer.” 

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