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Cautious welcome for ‘zero hour’ review

A Lancashire employment lawyer has given a cautious welcome to the news of the Labour Party’s announcement that it would introduce legislation to limit so-called ‘zero hour’ contracts.

Such contracts of employment usually exist in service industries like retail or hospitality, and mean that employers have a pool of on-call staff to choose from, but staff have no guarantee of work.

Recently trade unions have called these contracts exploitative, and now Ed Miliband has announced that, if in government, Labour would introduce changes meaning, for example, that workers can demand a regular fixed hours contract from their employer if they have worked for them for more than six months.

Also, a fixed hours contract would come into force automatically if a staff member has worked for the same business for more than a year, and protection would be introduced from employers who, for instance, demand that staff do not work for other businesses or cancel shifts at short notice.

But Kimberley Barrett-St.Vall, solicitor in the Employment team at law firm Napthens, has urged caution over the changes, warning it will still be possible to circumvent the proposed new rules.

She also revealed: “In my experience zero hour contracts have usually been used where it is mutually beneficial for both parties, offering corresponding flexibility for employer and staff member.

“I have not come across a situation where they were being used to exploit a member of staff, and it’s important to remember that if an individual does work for the same employer in a regular pattern of employment, corresponding rights against unfair dismissal are likely to exist in any event.

“Under the proposals there is nothing to stop a business laying off a member of staff before the requisite time periods have been reached – six months or a year – so they would be no better off.

“For many people, zero hour contracts are genuinely a better way to work.”