Diana Bruce: Zero-hours contracts could be advantageous to employees

In response to September’s Big Question, Should zero-hours contracts include minimum benefits provision?, by offering workers on zero-hours contracts a minimum benefits provision, there is debate that [employers] would then, in effect, be treating them as employees rather than workers, entitling them to certain statutory rights. 

The priority here, as deputy prime minister Nick Clegg stated, is to try to strike the right balance between preventing exploitation and insecurity of the workforce and having the benefit of labour flexibility.

In many situations, workers on a zero-hours contract may find themselves actually being employees and therefore having the same rights to the benefits afforded to them, such as statutory sick pay and holiday entitlement.

Also, in much of the media speculation surrounding these types of contract, the employer has been portrayed as the villain, exploiting the basic rights of its workers. But in many cases, this kind of flexibility and lack of commitment may be to the best advantage of the worker.

For example, it can allow a parent to work around their childcare arrangements or a student around their studies. Should the employer then be expected to pay compensation to someone who turns down work on the majority of occasions?

There is, without doubt, a need for clarity with these types of contract, because employers may not realise they could be in breach of contract, implied or otherwise, because these ‘workers’ are not receiving the basic employment rights they could be entitled to. Only then can we start to ascertain what minimum rights and benefits should be offered.

Diana Bruce is senior policy liaison officer at the Chartered Institute of Payroll Professionals (CIPP)