What rights do 'zero hours' workers have under the new UK law?

Deliveroo delivery riders amongst workers on their lunchbreak, looking at their phones awaiting for jobs, City of London, during Coronavirus Covid-19 Pandemic lockdown
Zero-hours contracts leave many workers such as delivery riders in a precarious work position. Photo: PA/Alamy

Zero-hours contracts, often described as casual contracts, are common. In theory, they offer flexibility for both employer and employee – but in reality, they leave many workers in a precarious situation with no guaranteed income.

However, things may be changing. On Friday, the government supported Blackpool South MP Scott Benton’s Workers (Predictable Terms and Conditions) Bill, which enhances the rights of people on insecure contracts.

Under the changes, if a worker’s existing working pattern lacks certainty in terms of the hours they work – or if it is a fixed term contract for less than 12 months – they will be able to make a formal application to change their working pattern to make it more predictable.

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The move, which will apply to all workers and employees including agency workers, comes after a review found many workers on zero hours contracts experience ‘one-sided flexibility’.

Zero-hours contracts are working arrangements where there is no guaranteed minimum number of hours that must be worked or paid for.

This means many workers are left waiting in case they are called up at the last minute for a shift. With a more predictable working pattern, workers will have a guarantee of when they are required to work, with hours that work for them. Additionally, they may have more of an indication of how much they will earn.

Conservative MP Scott Benton speaks to the media on College Green in central London, as Boris Johnson is facing a vote of no confidence by Tory MPs amid anger across the party at the disclosures over lockdown parties in Downing Street. Picture date: Monday June 6, 2022.
Blackpool South MP Scott Benton’s Workers (Predictable Terms and Conditions) Bill was backed by the government. Photo: PA/Alamy

“A significant number of my constituents experience unpredictable work,” Benton said. “Being able to ask their employers to consider requests for a more predictable working pattern such as working on set days, or for a permanent contract, will help them to work more predictable hours and provide more reliably for their families in some cases, and help with their work-life balance in other situations.

“This bill gives people a right to ask their employers to consider requests and will be welcomed by thousands of people.”

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Of the changes, Labour markets minister Kevin Hollinrake said: “Hard working staff on zero hours contracts across the country put their lives on hold to make themselves readily available for shifts that may never actually come.

“Employers having one-sided flexibility over their staff is unfair and unreasonable. This bill will ensure workers can request more predictable working patterns where they want them, so they can get on with their daily lives.”

The move comes as part of a package of policies to enhance workers’ rights across the country.

Pregnant woman talking a break while working in Roastery
Pregnant woman will get more rights under the new law. Photo: Getty

This includes supporting parents of babies who need neonatal additional care with paid neonatal care leave, and requiring employers to ensure that all tips received must be paid to workers in full.

Pregnant women and new parents will also be offered more protection against redundancy.

What are your rights on a zero-hours contract?

If you're on a zero-hours contract you can be legally classed as an employee or a worker. Your rights are based on your employment status, not on having a zero-hours contract.

As an employee or worker, your legal rights include national minimum wage and national living wage, paid holiday, rest breaks, protection from discrimination and receiving pay slips.

What are the problems associated with insecure contracts?

TUC analysis of Labour Force Survey data shows that 3.7 million people are in insecure work, which amounts to around one in nine of the workforce. It includes those on zero-hours contracts, agency, casual and seasonal workers, and the low-paid self-employed who miss out on key rights and protections that come with being an employee.

More people found themselves in insecure work after the financial crisis in 2007. According to the TUC, two-thirds of the employment growth in the UK after 2008 was accounted for by zero hours contracts, agency work, temporary work and low-paid self-employment.

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There are a number of problems associated with these types of work. The CIPD has found zero-hours contract workers are likely to be less satisfied overall with their employment contracts and pay and conditions compared with other employees.

Additionally, nearly half (48%) of employers of zero-hours workers said that they do not compensate workers for shifts that are cancelled with less than 24 hours’ notice. The prospect of having work offered or cancelled at short notice makes it hard to budget household bills, particularly amid the rising cost of living.

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