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Labour’s zero-hours contract pledge divides experts

While some say a ban would be a win for workers' rights, others say zero-hours contracts provide flexibility

Angela Rayner, deputy leader of the Labour Party, promised to ban zero-hours contracts if Labour comes into power at the next election.

In a speech at the Labour Party conference on Sunday (8 October), Rayner said: “We’ll ban zero-hour contracts, end fire and rehire, and give workers basic rights from day one.”

She also vowed to close the gender pay gap faster, make work more family friendly, tackle sexual harassment at work and empower trade unions.

Read more: MPs back workers' right to request regular hours

There is no legal definition of a zero-hours contract, but the CIPD defines it as an agreement between two parties that one may be asked to perform work for another but there is no minimum set contracted hours. 

Charlotte Woodworth, gender equality director at Business in the Community, said a ban on zero-hours contracts would bolster workers' rights.

She told HR magazine: “Zero-hours contracts can often mean limited employee rights and income insecurity.

"To ensure a good balance is struck for those who need it, employers should offer more secure contracts, such as minimum hours or annualised hours contracts, allowing them the same flexibility but with more security.”

She added that women are more often on zero-hours contracts as they tend to take on additional responsibilities, such as caring for children or elderly relatives.

She said: “Women make up the majority of those working on zero-hours contracts, with lack of flexibility in more stable, predictable jobs being a key reason they must rely on these kinds of roles.”

However, Jen Locklear, chief people officer at software company ConnectWise, said zero-hours contracts are an important means of offering flexible working.

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “For people entering the workforce for the first time, or re-entering the workforce, zero-hours contracts can be a great way to build a resume and add value to a company while gaining much needed experience to be effective in future roles. 

“Zero-hours contracts present a unique opportunity for job seekers to 'try-on' a job or role without the permanency of a full-time position.”

She said the proposed ban could exacerbate labour shortages and hinder startups.

“Banning these contracts could also increase the growing issue of companies not being able to find skilled talent. They can provide another talent pool that offers much needed relief on specialised project work, for example.

“For small companies and startups, hiring on a zero-hours contract can allow staffing solutions that help them flex and scale.

“The contracts could also help new companies build a strong employment brand in this competitive market without the high costs associated with employment contracts and recruitment fees.”

Read more: Zero-hours workers claim better work/life balance

However, Locklear warned that more regulation is needed to ensure zero-hours contracts are not used exploitatively.

She added: “The use of zero-hour contracts has been under scrutiny in recent years because of the perceived disadvantages for some workers and high-profile cases of businesses adopting exploitative working practices. 

“Better regulation around these contracts would help provide protection against many of the pitfalls of these arrangements, while maintaining the flexibility that many individuals desire.”