Zero Hour Contracts – Why Are They So Important?

The Office of National Statistics (ONS) recently revealed that the number of people in the UK who were being employed on a Zero Hours Contract had reached a record high, and currently stands at around 910,000. This figure is around 105,000 more people than there were in the same period of 2015. As a company who offer help with HR in Cheshire, we have seen a rise in the number of zero hour contracts for ourselves, especially when dealing with some of the large retailers. But what are Zero Hours Contracts, and why does this figure so worry us?

What Are Zero Hour Contracts?

Zero hour contracts are contracts which allow employers to employ staff on a basis which does not guarantee the employee set times to work. That means that employees on these casual contracts will only work when they are needed by the employer, and this can often mean they are called into work at short notice. The employees will also have no real idea of how much their salary is as they will only be paid on a number of hours that they work.

Some zero hour contracts are written in a way that insists that the employee has no option but to take the shifts they are offered, whereas others are a little more flexible and allow the employee the opportunity to refuse the shift. It is important to remember that if you are on a zero hours contract then you are probably not entitled to sick pay, although you should get holiday pay in line with the working time regulations.

Which Businesses Use Zero Hours Contracts?

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) recently stated that 33% of voluntary sector companies used zero hours contracts, followed by 25% of public sector companies and 17%of private sector businesses. We have found from experience that many employees of large retailing companies such as Sports Direct, JD Wetherspoon, and Cineworld are also on zero hour contracts.

Why Are Zero Hour Contracts So Controversial?

The issues that many employees are finding with zero hours contracts is that there is a certain level of uncertainty involved. The study done by the ONS found that although most employees on zero hours contracts worked around 25 hours a week, about 33% of them of them wanted more hours with 16% of them stating that their employer often failed to provide them with sufficient hours on a weekly basis.

As a company with extensive knowledge of HR, our concern is that many employees on zero hours contracts do not have the same employment rights as those employees that have more traditional contracts, and some critics even believe that some employers are using zero hours contracts as a way of avoiding their responsibilities to their employees.

Why Are Zero Hour Contracts Used?

From an employers point of view, they feel that these casual contracts allow them the flexibility to take staff on when they need them the most, for example, in response to busy times in the hospitality and tourism sector.  They also believe that employees like the flexibility that the contract gives them, with some 38% of workers surveyed by the CIPD stating that they are ‘employed full time, working 30 hours or more a week’ despite being on a Zero Hours Contract.

This is all well and good, but our concern is that some employees have no choice as to whether to sign a zero hours contract or not, and this can end up with them leaving the company. We are not advocating that zero hours contracts are never used though, as there will always be those employers and employees who want total flexibility and this is where Zero Hours Contracts will work for both parties. This is key though, the success of a Zero Hours Contract is that it work for all parties, as we have found that both individuals and companies need some certainty.

For more information on Zero Hour Contracts and our HR Cheshire Services, please call us today on 0333 050 3330 or send an email to