Zero-hours contracts: what are they?

An employee can end up with no pay at the end of the week because the employer does not need to guarantee work

A zero-hours contract is signed by the worker but allows the employer to avoid all but its duty of care while the worker is on site.

The worker can end up with zero pay at the end of the week because the employer does not need to guarantee any hours of work. When the workers do work, they must receive at least the national minimum wage but an employer is not obliged to offer sick leave or holiday pay. In some industries, workers on zero-hours contracts will agree to work according to weekly or monthly rotas. In other sectors, especially retail, workers may be summoned to work at a few hours' notice.

If a worker succeeds in grabbing lots of hours on a regular basis, they may eventually qualify for sick pay and holiday. But workers can simply be told to take a month's unpaid holiday, most likely during fallow business periods, and the potential for a longer term relationship is broken.

Business groups argue zero-hours contracts suit younger workers and students. They can simply avoid signing on the rota during weeks when they want to go to a festival or on holiday, but a young worker may also have caring duties or small children to look after.

Even so, there are plenty of complaints against zero-hours contracts. Why should a worker accept a job while on jobseeker's allowance that cannot offer any commitment to a minimum

The Department for Work & Pensions says nobody who is unemployed is obliged to take a zero-hours job, but anecdotal evidence suggests people who refuse a zero-hours job can lose their benefit. Those accepting a contract and finding they have little work for a short period, may wonder if it would be better to sign on? That might seem like an option, but until the employer issues a redundancy notice, the worker is nominally employed. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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