Zero-hours contracts are useful where work demands are irregular or where there is not a constant demand for staff, the Government believes — pointing to areas such as seasonal work, periods of unexpected sickness and special events.
It accepts that these contracts can also provide a level of flexibility for the individual but is determined that inappropriate use will not be allowed. For example, according to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS); "Zero-hours contracts are rarely appropriate to run the core business."
The Department has accordingly published guidance on the use of these contracts that explains what they are and how they affect employment rights as well as describing appropriate use and best practice.
The new guide explains that "zero-hours contract" is actually a non-legal term that is used to describe many different types of casual agreements between an employer and an individual.
It emphasises that, regardless of how many hours are actually offered, the employer must pay at least the National Minimum Wage. Furthermore, and without exception, anyone employed on a zero-hours contract is entitled to statutory employment rights.
These will vary according to whether the person is classed as a "worker" or an "employee": see www.gov.uk for the BIS definitions of these two categories.
The guide concludes with a warning that the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act prohibits the use of exclusivity clauses or terms in any zero-hours contract. This means an employer cannot stop an individual from looking for work or accepting work from another employer.