Zero hours contracts – are they ever justified?

There has been much talk this last week about zero hour contracts.  While the Office of National Statistics suggested about 250,000 people are on these types of contract, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) suggests the figure is nearer one million.   They report that the  average hours worked by employees on zero hour contracts is 19.5 per week, and of the 62% who are working part time, about a third (38%) would like to work more hours.

But is it all bad news?

Certainly for the employer the advantage is greater ability to manage peaks and troughs with a flexible workforce with limited risk and liability on their part.  From an employee perspective these types of contract may suit people who want to work hours that suit them because of other outside commitments and interests.

However, on the whole these types of contracts tend to have no guaranteed hours, employees have to sign to say they will only work exclusively for one employer who can choose when and where the employee works.  Moreover, zero hour contracts are likely to affect women more than men and we already know that the 18 to 24 years old age group and those aged over 55 years are more likely to be in these types of contract.  All of which points to potential gender and age discrimination.

The recent debate has highlighted the need for more scrutiny among employers who use them to ensure they are upholding their responsibilities as fair and good employers.  However, the fundamental question is how can employers build a skilled and flexible workforce where staff are engaged and committed? Furthermore , if your organisation is using zero hour contracts in one of their many different forms, do you have clear guidance about what good practice you should be following?