Zero Hours Contract Debate Rumbles On

ZeroIt looks like the zero hours contract debate will be rumbling on in 2014 according to the Chief Executive of ACAS. In an article published in HR Magazine this month, Anne Sharp welcomes the Government’s decision to institute a 12-week consultation to produce guidelines for employers and employees to help clear up confusion. As ACAS have seen an increasing number of enquiries from employees concerned with changes in their terms of contracts this can only be a good thing. Zero hours can offer flexibility to both employers and employees but with a second reading due in the House of Commons of a Private Members Bill seeking to prohibit zero hours contracts – it is clear that some strong guidelines to protect employees and inform employers are necessary if they are to remain a part of the flexible working toolkit available to maintain the agile workforce required to support economic growth.

The key to ensuring fairness in the workplace is by being able to track and monitor zero hours workers time and attendance and put in place processes and rules that will show employers and employees are getting the best out of this kind of working practice.

I have always maintained that businesses need to be as agile as possible, however a mix of full-time, part-time and the highly flexible zero-hours contract workers are essential to retain talent and ensure business objectives are met. If you want to keep abreast of the zero hours debate you can find out more by visiting the ACAS or the Government websites:


‘Zero-Hours’ Contracts – What’s All The Fuss About?

ZeroAccording to ACAS There’s been a sharp increase in recent years in so-called ‘zero-hours’ contracts, as employers try to find cost-effective ways of meeting short-term staffing needs, particularly in the retail and hospitality industry. But, as ACAS advises, they need careful management.

This rise has led to the fact-finding mission that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) has begun into the benefits and disadvantages for both employees and employers of zero-hour contracts and covered in a recent article in Payroll World .

In the article Vince Cable says he is concerned about how little we know of the effect zero hour contracts have on employees and employers in the workplace and believes some employers may abuse this type of contract, using them to take on cheap, disposable labour and not treating them fairly, which is why he has ordered the report.

I first saw ‘zero-hours’ contracts some 15 years or more ago and have yet to see evidence that they are really a way forward for most employers. They are more often seen in retailers in the United States and generally fairly alien to the Europe workforce. There are many very successful retailers across Europe running without using many, if any, zero hour contracts and I am not convinced they are a prerequisite to running an efficient business.

Where employers have a good balanced workforce with a mix of full-time/part-time and flexible contracted employees and a fit-for-purpose workforce management system – there should be no problem meeting customer demand in most industries.

Although this kind of contract offers extreme flexibility for employers and in some instances can be a very useful, cheap alternative to using agency staff, where ‘zero-hours’ contracts are widespread, employee engagement will inevitably suffer and that negatively impacts both productivity and  customer service.

Ultimately, many employers need  a flexible workforce to accommodate the required levels of service delivery or production requirement and there are many alternatives that should be considered other than ‘zero-hours’ contracts. There are many people in the workforce that would relish flexible contracts; working parents and people furthering their education, for example. All of those add to a flexible balanced workforce, and in some cases ‘zero hours’ may be needed but I am yet to be convinced. In any case, anywhere that a workforce needs to be flexible – the best way to manage it effectively and fairly is still with an automated workforce management solution.

How Do You Cure Compliance Headaches?

HeadacheShared Parental Leave, Flexible Working and Fit Notes are all examples of recent Government legislation that makes managing a workforce more complex. It can make compliance and avoiding accusations of discrimination a real headache.

I recently read a press release from the CIPD that discussed the challenges the administration of the proposed legislation on shared parental leave will bring. One of issues is that parents will be allowed the flexibility to take the leave when they feel they need it.  This makes it difficult for employers to plan recruitment requirements and cover for the leave and has led to a proposal that parents should give 8 weeks’ notice prior to taking leave – which would alleviate some of the pressure on the employer and that was seen as a fair request by the CIPD.

Another issue is that that there are different notice periods for paternity pay and leave that inevitably causes confusion to both employer and employee.  To address this confusion another proposal has been made that parental leave is aligned with the notice period for paternity leave and pay at the end of the 15th week before the expected week of child birth, which the CIPD also support.

From 2014, the statutory procedure for considering flexible working requests will be replaced by a requirement on employers to deal with all requests “in a reasonable manner” and in a recent article in Personnel Today I read how ACAS  have issued a draft code around dealing with these flexible working requests. The draft code is designed to be easy to understand and simple to use. It comprises 13 principles that will be taken into account by employment tribunals when considering cases arising out of the flexible working legislation. Managing a flexible workforce can be tricky for employers and the system must still be seen as fair for it to work. If you want to find out more you can find a copy of the draft ACAS proposal here.

The Fit Note legislation which was brought in two years ago to help manage employees back to work following sickness leave, has already run into difficulties because doctors felt they  were too busy to manage the ‘fit-note’ process and, also felt they didn’t know enough about the employee’s work or workplace to be able to make the call on what arrangements or changes should be made for someone returning to work.

These compliance headaches can be reduced. With the right workforce management tools, employers can have the automation, information, and visibility to foresee when their organisation could be at risk of litigation or the subsequent financial challenges. Automated tools can help them keep pace with Central Government and industry regulations so you can apply appropriate policies and rules easily, and correctly, to facilitate compliance. Employers will also have a reliable record of all employee information to document that these policies are being applied consistently and fairly throughout their organisation.