To update my blog last week, Vince Cable, on 23rd June, confirmed that employers are to be banned from placing restrictions on workers on zero-hour contracts from seeking additional work elsewhere.
It is estimated that employees on zero-hour contracts account for about 2% of the UK’s workforce. Cable stated that zero-hour contracts do have a place in the labour market, despite calls for contracts of this nature to be banned completely, but that they need restrictions which stop workers from being abused.
Despite the government plans to address the issue of zero-hour contracts, there are still concerns surrounding them as a whole. Even if workers can seek income elsewhere, they are still by no means guaranteed work and still face uncertainty regarding their income. For some employers and employees though this is the very benefit of the arrangement. Students and others with other flexible commitments view the arrangements as a chance to work when they are available. On that level it can be a valuable means of getting experience in the labour market whilst employers can access additional workers when they need them.
There are still calls for zero-hour contracts to guarantee a minimum number of hours for workers but I’m not sure that is of benefit to all potential workers never mind employers. However, these reforms do not address the issues surrounding employers favouring workers or more frequently not giving work to those perceived as ‘rocking the boat’ when they raise what might be a relatively minor issues.
However, the changes do start to address the difference in power balance between employers and employees, allowing workers and employers flexibility. Ultimately I suspect the other main factor that will address that power balance is an improvement in the economy. If only those workers who want the flexibility of a zero-hours contract work on that basis the issue becomes irrelevant.