UK Employers Face Fresh Challenge On Zero Hours Contracts

Zero-hours contracts have always been largely unpopular among UK workers, but now many businesses are starting to feel differently about using them too, as some of the UK’s largest chains are phasing out zero-hours use, partly due to workers bringing employers to employment tribunal over their use.

Such contracts are currently used across a number of different UK working environments, from shops and restaurants to care homes and hotels.

Zero-hours worker

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Zero-hours woes

This latest challenge comes at a time when according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) there were around 903,000 people worked zero-hours contracts between April – June 2016. This is a 21% rise from the 747,000 recorded during the same period in 2015. Breaking this data down reveals that a shocking 2.9% of the UK workforce are on zero-hours contracts; up from 2.4% last year.

JD Wetherspoons is the latest employer to begin allowing its staff to move from zero-hours contracts to full employment ones. There are currently 24,000 Wetherspoons staff on zero-hours. This new offer on the table provides zero-hour workers with hours equivalent to about 70% of their typical working week, which so far two out of three workers are said to have accepted when offered.

The company’s founder and chairman, Tim Martin, has been quoted saying “We’ve already offered guaranteed hour contracts to a percentage of our workforce and they’ll all be offered one in the next three months”.

Wetherspoons follows similar actions recently put into motion by UK retailer Sports Direct, which announced plans to move workers onto contracts that guarantee at least 12 working hours per week. Over 18,000 Sports Direct workers are currently on casual contracts, and a recent Guardian investigation uncovered how many of their temp workers in warehouses are actually being paid below minimum wage.

Other companies to recently come under fire for unfair treatment of casual and temporary workers includes the delivery businesses Deliveroo and Hermes, as well as the transport app company Uber. Workers at these businesses are taking their employers to tribunal to acquire contracts that grant the same rights to them that full-time workers receive.

Zero hours office worker

The seriousness of how working zero-hours contracts can impact workers’ lives has been highlighted by General Secretary of TUC, Frances O’Grady, who says “If you don’t know how much work you will have from one day to the next, paying the bills and arranging things like childcare can be a nightmare.”

The Resolution Foundation defends the use of zero-hour contracts on grounds that some workers rely on the flexibility they offer, but such claims are refuted by the Department For Business, which has issued statistics that show 70% of zero-hour workers to be unhappy with the hours they are given and short notice period they receive before work is expected.


With more high profile organisations challenging zero-hours, it is not unfeasible to see these contracts gradually phased out completely. However, it is just as likely that an alternative incorporating elements of zero-hours contracts may also become prevalent.