Acas warns of the negative impact of zero-hours exclusivity clauses
Acas has warned of the negative impact that exclusivity clauses where there is no guarantee of work can bring to employment relations, in its response to the Government consultation on zero-hours contracts.
Zero-hours contracts can be useful for employers in providing a flexible workforce to meet a temporary or changeable need for staff. Workers may also benefit from the flexible nature of the arrangement, with the possibility of accepting or turning down work as needed.
Acas was able to reach its conclusions by drawing on its wide-ranging experience of contractual arrangements in the workplace, and through analysis of calls to its Helpline regarding zero-hours contracts.
The response said that exclusivity clauses with no guarantee of work were bad for both sides, creating insecurity for employees, and undermining trust in the employment relationship.
It's not only contractual exclusivity that can be damaging. Acas research found that many zero-hours workers were afraid to look for work elsewhere, turn down hours, question their rights and entitlements, or raise a grievance, in case offers of work are withdrawn or 'zeroed down' in response.
This amounted, it said, to 'effective exclusivity' just as corrosive as anything written in contract.
It reflected the power imbalance in the employment relationship and contributed to a sense of ill-treatment felt by many zero-hours workers - particularly when they had been working for their employers for many years, or had an emotional commitment to the people they were dealing with, as in the caring and teaching professions.
A 'significant proportion of calls' from zero-hours workers to the Acas Helpline showed a low understanding and awareness of terms and conditions, and employment rights, and a lack of clarity about employment status.
Common questions to the Helpline were centred on holiday entitlement, maternity rights, sick pay, and what qualified as working time.
Changes to shift patterns, working times or contractual arrangements were often the trigger for making a call to Acas, or when workers perceived they were being penalised for attempting to assert their rights.
Calls from employers were often seeking advice on specific issues relating to taking on or managing staff on zero-hours contracts, for example, around holiday entitlements.
The response said that improved guidance could improve employer awareness of applicable rights and obligations, and help workers understand the 'inherent uncertainty of their contractual position'.
The provision of model clauses for contracts, which was mentioned in the Government consultation, might also help clarify employment status, Acas said.
Acas also indicated that it was keen to engage with the Government to provide additional support for employers and employees on zero-hours issues.
Acas publications and services
For the details of the response, see Acas Council response to the Government’s consultation on zero-hours contracts [26kb].
Acas has detailed information for employers and workers on Zero hours contracts, including a myth-busting page that sets the record straight on common areas of confusion.
Acas experts can visit your organisation and help you develop the most appropriate and effective terms and conditions of employment. See Contracts and hours: how Acas can help for details.
For free, impartial advice on zero-hours contracts or any employment relations issue, call the Acas Helpline on 0300 123 1100.
Visit the Acas Training and Business Solutions area for more information.
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