Sam Gee: Should zero-hours contracts include a minimum benefits provision?

Flexibility is good for business. Matching the people needed to the peaks and troughs in work makes for an efficient operation.

Having the biggest choice of available workers is also good for business and people such as retirees, carers, students or second-jobbers may be looking for occasional earnings. So I can see how zero-hours contracts can add value and allow a previously ‘difficult to employ’ group of people access to work.

But something doesn’t feel right. I am pretty certain such contracts are also being used to sidestep employee rights, pay less, and keep employees at the beck and call of the employer. Most employers understand that the quality and engagement of their employees will significantly affect their success, so why single out a group to treat less favourably? 

An important part of getting the ‘people’ bit right is about reward, including reasonable rates of pay enhanced by value-add benefits, such as employee discounts and life assurance. Where zero-hours contracts are used to set lower rates of pay and exclude workers from benefits, this is demotivating and unfair. 

Some employers are excluding workers on zero-hours contracts from sick leave and holiday pay. Not having an option to take paid leave when unwell or in need of a break is simply not good for the health and wellbeing of the individual, or their contribution at work.

Treating an employee with respect is an important part of the overall employee deal. Most workers will be looking for some clarity and certainty over their working pattern. Are employers really doing all they can to offer this where possible?

As an HR profession, it is our place to ensure zero-hours contracts are used for the right reason, and then rewarded appropriately and managed well. In doing so, we can create great places to work regardless of employee contract.

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Sam Gee is senior consultant at Innecto Reward Consulting

Gee will speak on the topic of communications at Employee Benefits Live on 25 September.