A zero-hours contract (sometimes called “zero-hour contracts”) is a type of employment contract where an employer and an employee agree to work together under specific terms.
How zero-hours contracts differ from regular employment contracts is that…
- the employer does not have to guarantee a set number of working hours
- the employee doesn’t always have to accept the hours that they’re offered
- the employee is free to work for other employers at any time
For this reason, the type of work provided by workers on zero-hours contracts tends to be on the casual side, with employers making hours available for their staff to claim as and when they want them rather than assigning shifts to specific employees.
Who uses zero-hours contracts?
Zero-hours contracts are used in a variety of industries, but they are most common at businesses where there are distinct busy and slow periods in trade and demand.
For instance, a professional copywriter or translator might sign a zero-hours contract giving them the option of picking up work when it fits their schedule, on the understanding that they aren’t guaranteed a minimum number of hours.
Similarly, many couriers and delivery drivers work on a zero-hours basis, claiming shifts or jobs on the days that they choose or are free to work.
Problems with zero-hours contracts
Some employers prefer to offer zero-hours contracts since it means that they can keep spending on staffing low, only paying for staff when they absolutely need them.
The problem with this is that, for all the convenience it offers them, many workers find it difficult or stressful to get by without the kind of regular, guaranteed hours offered by other employers. For this reason, many groups and individuals oppose zero-hours contracts, although there’s currently no UK law prohibiting their use.
Zero-hours contracts can sometimes be tricky for employers too. By offering work on such a flexible basis, they leave themselves open to being understaffed in the event that there’s a sudden uptick in demand — without a bank of staff ready and able to grab shifts at short notice, it can sometimes be difficult to fill gaps in the rota.