Following the revelation that more than one million people in Britain are on zero hours contracts, which is four times higher than the number shown in official statistics, zero hours contracts have come under close scrutiny by the government.
A zero hours contract is a contract for casual work where a worker has no set hours of work and is only paid for the work carried out, but is expected to be available for work when called on by the employer.
Whist zero hours contracts offer flexibility to workers, such as students, the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, has expressed concerns that some employers may be abusing these contracts and has asked for the growth of these contracts in both the public and private sector to be reviewed. Whilst this is unlikely to lead to zero hours contracts being banned (as has been advocated by the Trade Union Congress) it may result in these contracts being subject to much tougher regulation.
According to the government, the number of zero hours workers has increased from 131,000 in 2007 to 200,000 in 2013 and it is thought that the true figure may actually be far higher than this. This increase has been attributed to the use of these contracts, which were previously used primarily in shops and restaurants, being increasingly utilised in public services such as the NHS, following increased cuts in public sector spending.
Vince Cable has stated that whilst it is important for the workforce to remain flexible, it is also important for it to be treated fairly. In light of this and these comments, it seems likely that the government will propose safeguards to be put in place to protect those on zero hours contracts from being exploited.