There has been a lot of opinion in the press recently on the use of zero-hour contracts and whether this type of employment relationship should continue or not.

According to research by a living standards charity, people on zero-hour contracts are paid six pounds an hour less than other workers. It is believed that over a million UK workers are on zero-hour contracts and those aged between 18 and 24 are more likely to be employed this way.

The Labour Party are seeking to hold discussions with businesses to gauge their views.

Unions want zero-hour contracts banned and the government are reviewing them on the basis that they are open to abuse from employers and can lead to exploitation.

So, what are zero-hour contracts?

Zero-hour contracts do not guarantee shifts or work patterns and employees are expected to be available when they are needed.

Employers using zero-hour contracts say it’s a way of employing young people who might otherwise be out of work.

Employees are expected to be available for work but can legally turn it down if they don’t need it.

The future

Big brand employers such as McDonalds, Boots, KFC, Sports Direct and Subway use zero-hour contracts.

The advantages are that they allow employees to combine work with studying or childcare. However, the disadvantage is for those employees that require a stable income.

It appears that zero-hour contracts have helped save jobs through the recession. But is there a place for them going forward?

If used correctly, zero-hour contracts can be a helpful business tool, allowing employers to take people on quickly and giving employees opportunities they otherwise would not have had. It is therefore unfortunate that a few unscrupulous employers are ruining opportunities for some people to get started in what is currently a very competitive job market.

It is hoped that on top of the overwhelming array of employment legislation the coalition government has already brought in, any changes on this front do not limit the opportunities people can expect moving forward. 

Laura Allanson is an Associate Solicitor and Head of the Employment Department at BHW Solicitors in Leicester. Laura can be contacted on 0116 281 6237 or by email at

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