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Acas Breakfast Briefing - Zero Hours Contracts

On 24/07/14 by Brigid Simmonds (Chief Executive)

The Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill, which deals with pub companies, includes clauses to outlaw the use of exclusivity agreements in Zero Hours Contracts. Whilst a number of pub companies use Zero Hours Contracts, none that we are aware of have exclusivity agreements, but it was very useful timing to be invited by Sir Brendan Barbour the Chairman of Acas to a breakfast briefing to discuss further.

We heard from a range of speakers, starting with Anne Sharpe the CEO of Acas who set the scene in talking about a-typical contracts, workers rights to holiday and sickness pay, but the practical aspects of zero hours where an employee turns down a shift and is then not offered anymore and the lack of trust that can exist with these contracts. She did point out that there is a danger that any legislation will deal with today’s problems and not tomorrows, so we need to make sure that legislation is future-proof.

Ian Brinkley from the Work Foundation and a lecturer at Lancaster University said that the share of permanent jobs of the workforce in 1993 was 79% and recent figures have shown that it is now just under 79%, so not much change here and perhaps not as much growth in flexible working as expected. The change if there is one, is that managers now control work – they decide who they need when. The number of those on Zero Hours Contracts has been revised up from 200,000 to 1.4 million and may be more. Whilst there are many more who are satisfied with these contracts than those who are dissatisfied, there is a tendency for these contracts to be offered to those who are low skilled. It is therefore incumbent on employers and employees to be aware of their rights and responsibilities.

Sally Hunt is the General Secretary of the University and College Union and spoke passionately about the misuse of Zero Hours Contracts in this sector. She spoke of a lecturer who every year only received confirmation of hours two days before term started and who had no guarantee of holiday pay during the summer vacation.

In our discussion at the end, the Universities and Colleges Employers Association countered this view with statistics that the number of people in their sector on zero hours contracts had fallen by 11% in the last year and that any figures included visiting lecturers, musicians etc. This opened the door for Acas to offer mediation!
The same was true for the second case study from Colin Angel of Homecare Association. There are 410,000 employees who work on average 21 hours a week. 50% to 75% are on Zero Hours Contracts. He blamed much of this on the price set by local authorities for the service which they feel is underfunded. The LGA took a different view and so again perhaps Acas can help!

Ian Brinkley said that he believed that if more use could be made of proper forecasting there would be no need for zero hours contracts. I pointed out that if you ran a pub in Essex last weekend with flooding there was likely to have been no one in the pub. In central London where the promised rain failed to fall; the pubs were packed. It is difficult to forecast when you are weather dependent.

Where does this leave the pub industry? The Acas policy discussion paper which you can find on their website, suggested that 11% of callers to their helpline came from the ‘hotel and restaurant’ sector by Standard Industrial Classifications. Our research shows that companies use Zero Hours Contracts, but that banning exclusivity agreements will not really affect our sector. In addition to the ban, however, there is a promise from BIS of guidance too. I think we all started out thinking that generic guidance might work, but listening to the very different issues in different sectors, it may be that more specific guidance to cover leisure and hospitality would work better. BBPA will continue to work with BIS to find a suitable solution. It is probably worth noting that a future Labour Government would go further.


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