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Two-thirds of employers support right for zero-hours workers to request ‘stable’ contracts

4 Jun 2018 By Maggie Baska

CIPD survey finds businesses want regular or guaranteed hours for atypical staff

More than two-thirds of UK employers support the introduction of a new right for agency workers and individuals on zero-hours contracts to request a more ‘stable’ contract, according to a survey conducted by the CIPD.

The idea – which would allow agency workers to ask for permanent roles or zero-hours contract workers to request regular or guaranteed hours – won the approval of 67 per cent of more than 1,000 employers polled by the CIPD as part of its response to Good Work: The Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices.

Ben Willmott, the CIPD’s head of public policy, said paying closer attention to the needs of individual workers would help build better workplaces. 

“We welcome the strong employer support for a new right to allow atypical workers to request contractual stability, as it would help employers think seriously about whether flexible employment arrangements are needed and whether they are working for both parties, as well alternative ways of achieving the flexibility they require,” he said. 

The CIPD suggested that the right to request a stable contract should be available to workers who have a year of continuous service with one organisation. This idea was supported by 41 per cent of employers, while 32 per cent said it should cover those who had worked for six to 12 months and 20 per cent wanted it extended to three months or more service. 

But some experts urged caution. Seamus Nevin, head of policy research at the Institute of Directors, told People Management that the conversation around zero-hours and agency contracts was highly nuanced. 

“There is a misconception that all atypical contracts are bad, and this is not the case. We know from ONS research that three-quarters of people on these types of contracts are quite happy and would not want more hours,” he said. “Partly, that is because they value the flexibility and employers do too.”

Nevin claimed that atypical contracts helped certain demographics, such as single parents and the disabled, enter the workforce. But he agreed that the right to request a stable contract was valuable as it encouraged employers to give workers greater choice over which working patterns were most appropriate for their individual needs. 

Max Winthrop, partner and head of employment law at Short Richardson & Forth, said increasing certainty for those on atypical contracts went hand in hand with establishing clearer boundaries around rights and employment status. 

“I think we need clarity all around,” he said. “Because of the political contentions in this area, there really needs to be a neutral evaluation of employment status to define as well as clarify employee rights should they decide to switch [contracts]. We really think that the Law Commission is a good, neutral body to review this.”

The Taylor review’s headline suggestion on atypical contracts was to consider introducing a higher minimum wage for those who lacked certainty over their hours. The idea is currently being consulted on by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

More broadly, Taylor found that “too many employers and businesses are relying on zero-hours, short-hours or agency contracts, when they could be more forward thinking in their scheduling”, while recognising that flexibility was valuable to most workers.

In April 2017, fast food chain McDonald’s announced that it would offer 122,000 UK workers the option to move from zero-hours contracts to fixed contracts with a minimum number of guaranteed hours per week. 

The business said it offered the fixed-hour contracts after staff complained they struggled to acquire loans, mortgages and mobile phone contracts because of their lack of guaranteed employment. 

McDonald’s initially trialled the idea in 23 sites across the country, but 80 per cent of workers in the trial chose to remain on the atypical contract, the company said, reporting an increase in employee satisfaction it attributed to the effects of consulting with staff over their hours. 

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