Zero-hours contracts: firms could be forced to pay more for short notice

Rob Davies
The proposal would give firms an incentive to guarantee more hours in advance. Photograph: Joe Giddens/PA

Businesses who employ people on zero-hours contracts could be forced to pay a premium rate for short-notice work, the government’s employment tsar has said, in an effort to stop “lazy” employers exploiting staff.

Matthew Taylor was appointed by Theresa May last October to review employment practices in the light of concerns about the precarious nature of work, particularly in the gig economy.

In an interview with the Financial Times (£), Taylor said he was considering a plan to stop employers making workers bear the burden of the risk that they may not be needed.

The proposal would see firms told to pay an increased rate above the minimum wage if they called upon workers whose contract requires them to be on standby for work.

This would give firms an incentive to guarantee more hours in advance, because it would cost them more to pay people for work that had not already been agreed.

He said: “I think we can encourage employers to be a bit less lazy about transferring risk, even if it means [an employer] offers 15 hours a week rather than one hour, at least that’s 15 hours that I can know I’m going to be able to pay my mortgage.”

Taylor, a former adviser to Tony Blair, said the idea was still “up for debate” and had drawbacks because it might make the minimum wage more confusing for workers.

But he said the measure could address the problem faced by more than 900,000 workers on zero-hours contracts, who end up waiting for work that never comes.

“We’ve been hearing ... about people in the social care sector who are told, ‘Be ready to leave the house at seven in the morning’, then a phone call [comes to say] ‘No we haven’t any work for you today’,” he said.

Taylor said improving the quality of jobs in the UK should be a national goal in an interview with the Guardian this year, so that people “feel like citizens at work and not servants or slaves”.

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