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Government tried to strike a balance on 'zero-hours'
by Susie Hughes at 09:35 27/06/14 (News on Business)
The Government's has attempted to strike a balance on zero-hours contracts between protecting vulnerable workers from exploitation, while encouraging a flexible and independent workforce.
The Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill contained proposals to bring into law a ban on exclusivity clauses within zero hours arrangements, so that individuals on zero hour contracts are not tied to one employer. (See: 'Landmark' law for small businesses - Shout99, June 2014)

The target is employers who engage a person on a zero hours contract with no guarantee of work, yet also require workers to be available by restricting individuals from taking up other roles whilst employed. The practice has been widely criticised as unfair and the Government are taking steps to address it in the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill being introduced to Parliament today.

Other aspects of zero hours contracts have been criticised and there have been calls for them to be banned. However in introducing this proposal, the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, has recognised the value of zero hours arrangements and again having a flexible workforce, brings to the UK economy.

It has also been announced that there will be a further consultation on how to prevent employers evading the exclusivity ban. Whilst for some businesses the change in the law will necessarily result in a change in business models, contracts and operations; for the recruitment industry it may actually be of benefit and a step towards leveling the playing field between recruiters and other businesses, according to recruitment law specialist Lawspeed.

Under the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Business Regulations 2003 recruiters are already restricted from subjecting a work seeker to detriment or threatening to do so on the grounds that the work seeker takes up employment elsewhere, as a result of which recruiters could not include an exclusivity clause in any event.

Theresa Mimnagh, employment expert Lawspeed, said: “This is just one example of where agency workers have greater rights and protections than their directly employed counterparts. The Agency Workers Rights and a right to comparable pay and working conditions and the restriction on having payments withheld in certain circumstances being two other notable areas.

"With a consultation soon expected on changes to the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Business Regulations 2003 it remains to be seen what other changes we can expect.”

However, trade union body, the TUC argued that the Government needs to go much further if 'the widespread abuse of these kind of contracts is to be stamped out'.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: "The ban is welcome news but it’s not nearly enough to really tackle the problem. A lack of certainty is the real issue. Far too many employees have no idea from one week to the next just how many hours they’ll be working or more importantly how much money they’ll earn. This makes managing household budgets stressful and organising childcare very difficult indeed.

“The one change that would really make a difference would be for employers to have to guarantee their staff a minimum number of paid hours each week. And as the economy continues to grow that would give many zero-hours workers struggling to get by a much-needed pay rise.”

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Susie Hughes © Shout99 2014

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