The hospitality industry relies heavily on workers employed under zero hours contracts to meet fluctuating demand whether seasonal or otherwise. A “Zero hours contract” is a colloquial term used to describe an arrangement under which an individual is not guaranteed regular hours or even work at all and is only paid for work that is carried out – for example, waiting or bar staff on zero hours contracts can be called in to fill gaps in the rota in a pub or restaurant.

Earlier this year the Government carried out a consultation exercise on zero hours contracts. This concluded in March 2014 and no decision has yet been taken about the changes which will be made to the current rules.

The consultation exercise asked for views on two main issues relating to zero hours contracts:

  • Exclusivity – Some contracts seek to prevent a zero hours worker from working for another employer while he is engaged under a zero hours contract even though he has no guarantee of work. The consultation asked whether legislation, guidance or a code of practice should be introduced to minimize the unjustified use of exclusivity clauses in zero hours contracts.
  • Transparency – the consultation sought views on how to improve both employee and employer awareness of employment rights and benefits for zero hours workers.

Right to request a fixed contract

Since the consultation closed Labour and the Government have also mooted other proposals in relation to zero hours workers. Ed Miliband has promised that if elected he would legislate so that workers will be able to demand a fixed contract when they have worked for an employer for 6 months with an automatic fixed contract being given after 12 months unless they opt out.

Vince Cable has also said he thinks that workers on zero hours contracts should have the right to request a fixed contract much as workers currently have the right to request flexible working. It is thought that Conservative ministers are also prepared to consider the right to request a fixed contract.

The proposal to introduce a right to request a fixed contract has met with mixed feelings in the Industry. Whilst the ALMR support the Government in tackling the abuse of zero hours contracts they believe that there is a need to maintain a balanced approach which does not overly burden operators in terms of cost or reduced flexibility and profit.

The current statutory right to request to work flexibly applies after 26 weeks employment and where an employee is a carer for an adult or has parental responsibility for a child under 16. If a request is received an employer must hold a meeting with the employee within 28 days and then notify them of their decision with another 14 days. There are 8 grounds set out in the legislation on which an application for flexible work can be refused. These include the burden of additional costs, detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand and insufficiency of work during periods which the employee proposes to work. It is thought that a right to request a fixed contract would be likely to be introduced along similar lines with specific statutory reasons being the only grounds on which an application could be refused.

We await the Government’s response to the consultation with eagerness.

The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the present time and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.