Workers will be able to demand regular hours are written into contracts

Government plans legislation to address ‘one-sided flexibility’, forcing businesses to compensate for last-minute shift cancellations

Workers could be given the right to change their contract to more accurately reflect the hours they actually work, under plans aimed at giving gig economy workers more stability.

The government said it would introduce legislation to create a right for all workers to switch to a more predictable work pattern, implementing one of the recommendations set out by the Low Pay Commission to tackle fears over one-sided flexibility in contracts.

Under the proposed rules, aimed primarily at shift workers and those on zero-hours contracts, workers regularly undertaking a certain number or pattern of hours could have this written into their contract.

Any employer refusing to change a contract would be required to justify their decision based on conditions to be set out within the legislation, and individuals would be able to challenge the decision at an employment tribunal.

The government has also launched a consultation on a package of other reforms based on recommendations made by the Low Pay Commission last December.

This includes plans to force employers to compensate workers for cancelling shifts at short notice, the creation of an entitlement to a reasonable period of notice when shifts are allocated and protection for workers who may be penalised by their employers for not accepting shifts at short notice.

The proposals are part of the government’s Good Work Plan to overhaul workers’ rights in the UK, in response to concerns that the expansion of self-employment and casual contracts had created uncertainty and instability among lower-paid workers.

The proposed legislative changes and the consultation were welcomed by Tony Wilson, director of the Institute for Employment Studies. “The issues that the Taylor review and the Good Work Plan have identified about one-sided flexibility in employment contracts need to be addressed, and so it’s welcome the government is consulting on some practical ways of doing that,” he said.

Wilson added that, so long as the changes were implemented sensibly – and that any terms of notice and compensation were reasonable – there was no reason it should have a negative effect on businesses.

“Good employers probably won’t have to do anything differently. Most employers would give notice when shifts are changed or cancelled, and it’s not many employers that change shifts at short notice or require people to attend when they weren't expecting to,” he said.

“For those employers that are taking advantage of the flexibility of the labour market, it will require them to follow what is already best practice.”

He added that zero-hours contracts were a minor part of the labour market – making up just one in 40 contracts – and that while there were undoubtedly problems with one-sided flexibility, the majority of people worked flexibly because it suited them. 

Bryan Sanderson, chair of the Low Pay Commission, said he was “delighted” that the government was acting on its proposals.

“Last year, we looked at the data on one-sided flexibility and talked to workers and businesses across the UK. Our report, published in December, found that shift cancellations and short notice of work schedules were significant problems, especially for low-paid workers,” he said.

“The proposed changes, part of a package of policies we suggested, have the potential to improve work and life for hundreds of thousands of people.”