The zero-hours contract debate: is the end in sight?

It was reported yesterday that McDonald’s is set to offer employment contracts containing fixed hours to its 115,000 employees employed under zero-hours contracts. This follows a trial offer across 23 restaurants, following which 20% of employees at those restaurants elected to switch to contracts containing fixed working hours.
McDonald’s 115,000 zero-hours employees represent a significant proportion of the 905,000 that the Office of National Statistics reported last month were employed on zero-hours contracts for their main job between October and December 2016. This, therefore, is a significant move. It remains to be seen how many of the 115,000 will in fact take up the offer of fixed hours. However, the 20% figure from the trial suggests that the debate over zero-hours contracts is not over yet – it is notable that 80% of those included in the trial elected to stay on zero-hours contracts (although we do not know how the terms otherwise compared).
What is clear (and has been for some time now) is that, disregarding the benefits of zero-hours contracts for employers, whilst many employees prefer the certainty and security of contracts containing fixed hours, many value the flexibility of a zero-hours working arrangement. It seems McDonald’s has now found a way of putting this debate to bed within their organisation, by giving staff the ability to choose between the two, but otherwise it remains on-going. Research by the Trade Union Congress, also released yesterday, has found that the number of employees in the UK in insecure employment (including, but not limited to, zero-hours contracts) continues to grow.
Perhaps the solution McDonald’s has found would help address the debate elsewhere. It may be that the answer is not to ban zero-hours contracts but to change the law so that all employees who would otherwise be given zero-hours contracts, are offered the choice of a zero-hours arrangement, or a fixed hours arrangement on comparable terms. This is certainly something that larger employers, at least, may want to consider. For now though, the debate looks set to rumble on.

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Victoria Albon

About Victoria Albon

Victoria has experience of advising on a wide range of contentious and non-contentious employment law issues. This includes significant experience of defending a wide range of claims in the employment tribunal, including claims for unfair dismissal and discrimination as well as claims for unlawful deductions of wages, holiday pay and under TUPE. Victoria regularly advises on non-contentious matters including the application of TUPE, handling collective redundancy consultations and changing terms and conditions.

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