Following the recent spate of publicity surrounding the working conditions and rights of those employed on zero hours contracts, a bill seeking to ban the use of these contracts will have its second reading in the House of Commons on 19 January 2018. The Workers (Definition and Rights) Bill 2017-19 has been described by its sponsor, Mr Chris Stephens MP for Glasgow South West, as providing Parliament with further opportunity to debate the issues around worker rights and status, as previously explored by the 2017 Taylor report in to modern working practices.
The draft Bill is looking to provide clarity and safeguards for those working in precarious roles, such as within the hospitality sector, contractors or within the ‘gig economy’. The Bill contains a definition of what rights are available to those defined as having “worker status” and creates a single statutory definition to determine who is entitled to employment rights. Organisations will also become legally responsible for the payment of workers if their subcontractor ceases operations.
A law was passed in New Zealand in 2016 which successfully abolished the use of zero hours contracts. As a result, the contracts and their legality have been a hot topic for governments and trade unions across the globe with media coverage on the matter increasing accordingly. The proposed Bill seeks to limit the use of these contracts by specifying zero hours contracts may only be used where there is a specific agreement in place with a trade union. According to Mr Stephens this will “energise trade unions, especially young trade unionists organising in sectors where trade union density is low. Drive up living standards and pay in sectors of the economy where the minimum wage is dominant”.
Under current UK legislation, employers can legally use zero hours contracts to employ workers. Recent figures show that over one million workers in the UK are employed on these terms, including at large employers such as Sports Direct and McDonalds, although the use of these contracts has been slightly decreasing over recent years.
Should the bill be passed, workers will receive greater security and clarity around their rights in the workplace. With the use of zero hours contracts being commonplace across several industries, organisations will be required to review their recruitment and employment practices.