Are zero-hours contracts being banned?
There have been a number of reports in the media about the supposed ‘ban’ on zero-hours contracts. These have stemmed from the proposed new restrictions in the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill 2014, outlined in my colleague Julie’s blog here.
Zero hours contracts
The Bill defines zero-hours contracts as contracts under which: a) the carrying out of the work is subject to the employer making the work available; and b) there is no certainty that any such work will be made available. Such contracts will continue to be valid and enforceable, regardless of whether the Bill passes into law.
Ban on exclusivity
What the Bill proposes to do is make exclusive zero-hours arrangements unenforceable. This is to address the situation where a zero-hours worker is not provided with any work by their employer, but is unable to undertake work elsewhere, either at all or without their employer’s permission.
The proposal is to make exclusivity clauses unlawful. However, the remainder of the contract would still be enforceable. The worker would therefore be able to continue to work for the employer under a zero-hours contract, but could also actively seek and undertake work elsewhere.
In announcing the Bill, Vince Cable made it clear that the detail of the restrictions will be set out in regulations. The regulations will define who is a zero-hours worker. It is anticipated that this might include those earning below a certain threshold, as well as individuals working on zero-hours contracts. This would protect zero-hours workers from being placed under contracts which guarantee, for example, one hour’s work, in an effort to escape the ban on exclusivity clauses.
How far the regulations will reach remains to be seen.