Zero hours and flexible contracts have been attracting a lot of press attention recently, whether it is their use by employers like Sports Direct or the rise of the so-called "gig" economy, with Uber and Deliveroo recently in the press regarding their relationships with those who work with them. They are used extensively in the retail and leisure industries and also in care environments, whether in nursing or residential homes or providing care at home.
Flexible contracts can be a boon for both parties. The companies get the ability to increase or decrease the workforce according to the level of requirement and also get a workforce which may not be available for a more structured environment, such as students, those with multiple jobs and women with families. The workers get a more flexible arrangement, allowing them to work around other commitments.
But they are also subject to potential abuse. Employers who are more unscrupulous look to reap the benefits of flexibility, while still expecting staff members to work solely for them and to take any shifts which are offered (and penalising those who do not). They have also looked to reduce or exclude responsibility for things like holiday pay by basing it on the actual hours specified in the contract (i.e. none) rather than hours actually work. This has been the subject of a considerable amount of litigation in the courts over the last couple of years.
With both zero hours and flexible contracts on the rise, as shown by the most recent information from the ONS on the care sector, these issues with only increase in importance and we can expect to see increased press attention, regulation, legislation and litigation over the next few years to address it.
Data from the Office for National Statistics showed that between April and June this year, about 113,000 of the 769,000 workers who provided at-home care for vulnerable people or were employed in care homes were on contracts with no guaranteed hours. At approximately one in seven, that total represents a substantial and rapid increase on 2015, when one in 10 care workers were on zero-hours deals.