Sports Direct have been in the spotlight recently – for many things – but one issue is the highly controversial use of zero-hour contracts. But I would like to ask, why are they so bad and why are they so frowned upon within the media?
Firstly, I guess I should explain what a 'Zero-hour Contract' is. Well, not to be confused with a Casual Worker Contract, where the employer has no obligation to offer work and the employee is not required to accept the offer of work, zero-hour contracts are used by organisations to cope with varying staff requirements. The employer is under no obligation to offer an employee work but, when it does, the employee is required to accept the offer.
This type of contract allows employers to retain a pool of workers to fill temporary positions as they arise. These individuals are workers, and not self-employed, because there is a global contract covering the periods when they are not working. If both parties are under an obligation to each other, so creating a mutuality of obligation, the worker may also be an employee with all the associated employment protection rights that entails.
The media at the moment and for quite some time actually, have been dismissing this type of contract as a negative approach for employees, however, It said the flexibility offered by zero-hours contracts can make them an attractive prospect for both employers and employees who are looking for work without the obligation of a permanent contract.
There have been various reports that, in general, suggest people employed on zero-hours contracts are as happy as other staff and, if deployed responsibly, they can be a useful way to accommodate flexible working patterns. For seasonal workers, for example, a zero-hours contract can stop them being tied to one employer, and allow them to take up jobs on a temporary basis with no obligation. And for those with caring responsibilities, having the flexibility of the number of hours worked each week, is one less burden to carry.
Unfortunately, there are employers who do not deploy this type of contract in the manner they are designed and this is where the bad press comes in. Employees can be left vulnerable and without pay for a considerable amount of time and this is not a positive approach.
On a positive note, when managed correctly, zero-hour contracts can be positive for all parties.