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Lawyers Criticise Protection of Zero Hour Contracts

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Solicitors have criticised the government's decision to implement legislation that is meant to protect workers on zero-hour contracts, with experts calling the legislation as “toothless”.

The Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015 was passed under the Liberal-Conservative coalition government with the intention to ban clauses that allow employers to block zero-hours employees from having other jobs.

Such exclusivity clauses were promised in the General Election with the Prime Minister promising to scrap such clauses and look into scrapping zero hour contracts.

“No Way To Take Legal Action”

Despite the strong words from the Prime Minister and the introduction of the Employment Act, there is no enforcement measure to allow those working on a zero-hour contract from taking action against an employer. This effectively means that even if an employer goes against the law, there is no way an employee can take legal action. Furthermore, it did nothing to benefit those with one job working on a zero hour contract. 

Elizabeth George, a specialist employment lawyer at a national firm stated that the law introduced by the government was “utterly toothless.” She said: “This piece of legislation says that employers can’t enforce these clauses in a zero-hours contract.

“But if they operate a policy of reducing or not offering hours to those who have work elsewhere there’s no right for workers to do anything about it.”

Many other lawyers condemned the proposal from the government as it only encouraged the growth of zero-hour contracts rather than protect those currently on them. According to solicitors rather than scrapping such contracts, the government were encouraging those working on a zero-hour contract to get another job on a similar contract to obtain income.

As well as solicitors, many unions condemned the move that “totally missed the point” and failed to make workers employment situation more secure. Steve Turner, Unite’s assistant general secretary, said: “Banning exclusivity clauses is a joke. It misses the key point that zero hours confer fear and misery of those forced into them – no security, no protection and little dignity.

“With millions now declared ‘self-employed’, underemployed and insecure at work, we believe the scale of workplace insecurity is vastly underestimated by the Tory government and needs to be addressed.

“When a business fails to create decent jobs, there are serious, deep social and economic consequences for our country.”

Ignore the Law

According to employment lawyer Philip Landau, the rule would have a insignificant impact on workers and employers. He said: “The flexible nature of zero-hour contracts means most employers won’t be unduly troubled by the new law.”

Zero-hour contracts were a political hot potato during the election with Labour calling for such a contract agreement to be scrapped. Zero-hour contracts offer no set hours and can result in employees missing out on sick pay, annual leave or holiday pay.

A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said: “The government is serious about tackling exploitative zero-hours contracts and we have taken the first step by banning them.

“In commencing this provision, we are able to use secondary legislation to create a route of redress for any individual whose employer ignores the ban.”

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