Sarah Veale, head of equality and employment rights at the TUC, looks at the growth of ‘zero hours’ contracts, which have become increasingly popular since the start of the recent recession.

During the recession of the 1990s a new form of employment contract appeared. It stipulated that the employee would not have any formal hours of work but would be expected to be available to work as the need arose. Fast food chains in particular started to make regular use of these contracts. They became known as ‘zero-hour contracts’ because that is exactly what they were: legal contracts of employment that did not guarantee any work and consequently no guarantee of any pay.

Nonetheless contracted employees could not work anywhere else nor could they sign on as being available for work for benefits purposes. Unable to find other jobs, people accepted these contracts and sat by their phones every day waiting to be called in to work – or not.

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