Workers who have been on zero hours contracts for a year or more should be given the legal right to switch to a fixed hours contract if they’ve worked regular shifts during that time, the Resolution Foundation has recommended.
The independent think tank’s report, Zeroing In: balancing protection and flexibility in the reform of zero hours contracts, rejects the case for an outright ban on zero hours contracts, finding that many employers and some workers appreciate the flexibility they can give.
But the report’s authors argue that there are clear signs of abuse and poor practice and make specific recommendations for social care, where they say the use of zero hours contracts is “particularly troubling”.
This is in part because the use of zero hours contracts in social care coincides with low pay, low skills and low status, “creating a particularly vulnerable, largely female, workforce”. They also note the “increasing disquiet” nationally about the impact of zero hours contracts on the quality of care provided, recommending that:
- Local authorities should commission care work by outcomes rather than time slots
- The terms of conditions of workers should be included in considerations of social value when care contracts are awarded as required under the Public Services Act 2012 and new EU Procurement Directive
- Local authorities should play a more strategic role in shaping the local care market so care firms can offer workers more choice between types of contract
Vidhya Alakeson, joint author of the report and deputy chief executive of the Resolution Foundation, said: “We single out the care sector for particular attention because this is where it will be hardest to reduce the use of zero hours contracts, but also the place where their use is most entrenched and where their impact on vulnerable workers and care recipients is most worrying.”
The report also recommends a number of reforms to the use of zero hours contracts across all sectors, including giving staff on zero hours contracts the right to a fixed hour contract after 12 months, provided their weekly work pattern has been relatively consistent.
It argues that employers should be banned from including exclusivity clauses in zero hours contracts, which prevent staff from working elsewhere.
Other proposals include ensuring workers know when they are on a zero hours contract and better sharing of information between national agencies to deter abuse.
Alakeson said: “These proposals strike a balance, keeping the flexibility that some people value and adding far more security and clarity for workers. With these practical steps and an effort to develop good practice among employers it should be possible to protect the rights and conditions of workers without limiting the flexibility of firms.
“Not all firms misuse zero hours contracts and a few staff even prefer them, but it’s clear there’s substantial abuse of these contracts which affects a significant minority of the workforce. There is no justification for keeping a regular worker on a zero hours contract for more than a year.”
The government is expected to announce the outcome of its review of zero hours contracts later this Spring.