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Acas study reveals that people on zero hours contracts feel excluded, which can damage employment relations

Monday 12 May 2014

An Acas study published today reveals that many workers on a zero hours contract feel excluded from the sense of security, fairness and trust that's associated with permanent contracts of employment.

Acas' discussion paper pdf icon Give and take? Unravelling the true nature of zero-hours contracts [178kb] looked at recent research around zero hours contracts as well as employers and employees that called the Acas helpline about these contracts.

On average there were 70 calls a week about zero hours contracts to the helpline. The use of exclusivity clauses did not emerge as a significant concern amongst callers but a feeling of 'effective exclusivity' did emerge as a major concern.

Acas Chair, Sir Brendan Barber, said:

"Our analysis reveals that many workers on zero hours contracts experience a deep sense of unfairness and mistrust that go beyond the use of exclusivity clauses.

"A lot of workers on zero hours contracts are afraid of looking for work elsewhere, turning down hours, or questioning their employment rights in case their work is withdrawn or reduced. This deep rooted 'effective exclusivity' can be very damaging to trust and to the employment relationship.

"There also appeared to be a lack of transparency on the terms of their contractual arrangements. Many people did not seem to even know that they were on a zero hours contracts and some believed they were on a permanent contract due to the length of their service."

In its response to the BIS consultation, on 18 March 2014, the Acas Council recommend new guidance on zero hours contracts so that both employees and employers are very clear on the working arrangements they are agreeing to. Acas Council also welcomed the opportunity for Acas to work closely with government on addressing this issue and made further recommendations around the need for further research.

Brendan Barber added:

"We believe that zero hours contracts with exclusivity clauses where there is no guarantee of work are likely to have a negative impact on employment relations - such clauses are likely to be unhelpful for both employers and employees.

"These clauses undermine trust in the employment relationship and create insecurities for employees both in terms of their pay and their choices for working elsewhere.

"There is a need for more research to take a closer look at the relationship between different forms of employment, the effect of economic cycles and the impact that outsourcing is having on certain sectors such as contracting out by the NHS and social services."

Acas is planning to provide guidance on how to manage different kinds of contractual arrangements which includes zero hours contracts.

Notes to editors

  1. The Acas Policy Discussion Paper Give and take? Unravelling the true nature of zero-hours contracts is available from Policy discussion papers.
  2. Acas undertook an analysis of calls to the Acas Helpline on the issue of zero hours contracts between June to August 2013. It showed that:
    - around seven out of 10 calls (68 per cent) were from employees;
    - over eight out of 10 calls (83 per cent) were about work in the private sector;
    - six out of ten calls were from organisations employing fewer than 250 people; and
    - the explicit use of exclusivity clauses did not emerge as a significant concern but the feeling of 'effective exclusivity' emerged as a major concern amongst callers.
    The full analysis is available in the Acas Council's response to the BIS consultation on zero hours contracts: pdf icon Acas Council response to the Government’s consultation on zero-hours contracts [26kb].
  3. Acas stands for Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service. We aim to improve organisations and working life through better employment relations. We help with employment relations by supplying up-to-date information, independent advice and high quality training, and working with employers and employees to solve problems and improve performance. Acas is an independent and impartial statutory body governed by a Council made up of members from business, trade unions, academia and the law. For more information, see About us
  4. The Acas helpline - 0300 123 1100 - is available from 8am to 6pm, Monday to Friday. Advice is free and confidential so callers do not have to give their names. Research commissioned by Acas and available at Acas Helpline, found over nine out of ten employers (96 per cent) who call the Acas helpline would recommend it to a colleague.
  5. For media enquiries please contact Shumon Rahman on 0207 210 3688 or For out of hours media enquiries please call the out of hours duty press officer on 020 7210 3600.