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Gill Dix: Zero Hours Contracts - Acas hosts the debate

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Gill Dix, Head of Strategy at Acas, introduces our blog series on atypical contracts in the changing world of work.

Gill Dix 

Gill Dix is Head of Strategy at Acas. 

Gill Dix

As the policy and media debate on zero hours contracts continues, can any lessons be learned along the way about the implications for other forms of contingent work (where managers can vary the number of hours of work offered to workers)? The bigger picture of atypical work was on the agenda at Acas' first breakfast seminar on 22 July.

One issue that has been widely recognised is the lack of clarity some employers and workers experience about these arrangements. Anne Sharp, Acas CEO drew on Acas' analysis of calls to our Helpline (pdf  Give and take? Unravelling the true nature of zero-hours contracts [178kb]) to argue that an incomplete understanding of the terms of work results in difficulties for both parties. Of course, this might well be the case for any type of contractual arrangement, for example if people feel too daunted to read the small print. But where contracts are not specific, or not written down, the chances of confusion and misinformation are heightened.

There was consensus at the breakfast seminar that all efforts should therefore be made to provide clear guidance on zero hours contracts, and other forms of contingent work, so that workers and employers have a better understanding of the employment relationship: that workers know the terms of their work and their rights, and employers are up to speed on their responsibilities.

Beyond that issue, the debate was wide ranging. It touched on the statistics and the importance of understanding the wider labour market context of zero hours contracts; the experience of exclusivity clauses where workers are offered no guarantee of work, but are not permitted to work elsewhere; the fear people have about challenging their rights in case their hours are reduced; and the opportunities that contingent work offers in responding to the need for a flexible supply of labour. Accounts from different sectoral perspectives were especially important in providing a sense of how zero hours contracts are used in practice, and how they are managed in different settings.

Acas wanted to facilitate discussions and hear a range of different, and sometimes competing perspectives. The breakfast meeting was a useful start and it was encouraging to see the participants at this event being prepared to listen, as much as be forthright in their opinions. To hear more about the discussion, see the highlights of Twitter discussion during the event and our new Employment Relations Comment on zero hours contracts.

Or read the guest blogs from the speakers at the breakfast briefing: Colin Angel, Policy Director at the UK Homecare Association; Ian Brinkley, Chief Economist at the Work Foundation; and Sally Hunt, the General Secretary at the University and Colleges Union.

As the focus on zero hours contracts shows little sign of abating, there will be an ongoing need for those with different perspectives to work together to get clarity on the issues and how to tackle them.


Read more blogs from the zero hours contracts series

Ian Brinkley: Developing new policy toward future of zero hours contracts

Sally Hunt: Casualisation of contracts - an equality issue

Colin Angel: Use of zero hours contracts in the homecare sector

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