Zero-Hour Workers Could Request Fixed Hours
From the first of July, all employees who have worked for their employer for six months will be able to request more flexible working hours. This is already sorted – it is going to happen. And now, the business secretary, Vince Cable, has said that the government is thinking about giving people working on zero-hour contracts the reverse option: being able to request fixed hours.
Zero-hour contracts allow employers to hire staff with no guarantee of actually working. It provides both the company and the employee flexibility, which can prove invaluable for some. Unfortunately, there is some evidence of abuse of these contracts, as well as not providing financial security or stability that some workers are seeking, and there are also few employment rights, and sometimes not enough work.
The government has said that while people on zero-hour contracts often work an average of 25 hours a week and the contracts are a means of gaining work experience that will look good on a CV, employees should be given the right to ask for fixed hours if they need them.
“Large numbers of workers, those beyond retirement age, students, single parents with young children, value jobs which do not demand fixed and rigid hours,” Mr Cable explained. “[However], the recession has brought to light problems we need to resolve. We have to confront the possibility that labour markets may be becoming too flexible. Too much flexibility and we undermine the incentive to be more productive.”
It is thought that by enforcing the right of a worker to request fixed hours, it could act as an incentive for companies to improve the organisation of their workforce and that because some employees do actually like zero-hour contracts, a balanced approach is needed.
Mr Cable explained that as economic growth continues to strengthen, something needs to be done to help create more jobs, help the economy better respond to any future changes, and make room for growth in real wages.
He added that there has been pressure to increase wages simply because more people are in work, and if some sort of mix up of the system isn’t put into action then it could end up with an influx of low-productivity jobs. He said that around 80% of the increase in employment is down to people becoming self-employed and that part-time jobs are becoming lower paid because of the amount of people working past retirement age.
“There is a barely remarked-upon transformation in the basic shape of recovery we expected,” Mr Cable added, “and one that is less favourable for living standards across the income distribution.”
A couple of aspects of employment have been and are going to be targeted, including benefit reforms and abolishing the default retirement age, which means that employees in low-skilled jobs are being given an incentive to be more productive, but while these seem like taking something away from the workers in order to make them work harder, the potential new rights to allow them to ask for a fixed set of hours would be giving something back to them – something many have been fighting their own private battle with. And now that battle will hopefully be won.