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Will “Zero Hour Contract” costumes be all the rage this Hallowe’en?

Apparently, Zero Hours Contracts (ZHCs) are scary. Since August, when the Office of National Statistics estimated 250,000 Britons are employed on ZHCs and the CIPD estimated that the number is likely to be closer to 1 million, there has been an avalanche of media coverage akin to a witch hunt. Roving bands of journalists, waving pitchforks and torches, have scoured the land to “name and shame” every employer who has even thought about using a ZHC.

This has culminated in an announcement this week from Business Secretary Vince Cable that the Government will launch a consultation on the abuse of ZHCs. I think Dr Cable’s use of words here is important. It won’t be a consultation on the “use” of ZHCs full-stop, but a consultation on the “abuse” of ZHCs, particularly relating to employers requiring employees on ZHCs to work exclusively for the employer when there is no guarantee that the employee will be asked to work from one week to the next.

A consultation on the abuse of ZHCs seems reasonable; but it’s a far cry from the hysterical cries calling for ZHCs to be made unlawful. This is probably because, as Vince Cable himself pointed out in his press release, ZHCs are used much more widely than most of the public (and the Government, apparently) previously thought. Banning their use could remove an essential tool for employers who legitimately require a flexible workforce. It could also remove job opportunities which might not otherwise exist. These are clearly important considerations when even the smallest “boo” might scare away our economy’s tentative green shoots.

So, is the ZHC costume going to be the must-have scary costume for Hallowe’en next month? Probably not, because it turns out that ZHCs themselves are not bad, but it’s their abuse we should be scared of. This also means that I need to come up with a new costume idea for my team’s annual Employment-Themed Hallowe’en Masquerade Ball. Oh well, there’s always “Industrial Action Man”.

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