New research into zero-hours contracts suggests that the benefits in terms of flexibility and wellbeing outweigh the downsides for many workers.
According to the CIPD’s Zero-hours contracts: evolution and current status report, the flexibility provided by zero-hours contracts can benefit students, people with fluctuating health conditions, those with varying and unpredictable caring responsibilities, older workers approaching retirement, and those who might otherwise struggle to work at all.
It suggests that the narrative around zero-hours contracts needs to shift to one that recognises both the positives and negatives.
Analysis of the CIPD/YouGov working lives surveys carried out between 2019 and 2021 finds that health and wellbeing is marginally better for those engaged in zero-hours work, as these types of jobs are less likely to be stressful, while zero-hours jobs were better for work-life balance.
Nearly half (45%) of zero-hours contract workers thought their work had a positive effect on their mental health compared to just over a third (34%) of other workers.
There was little difference in the job satisfaction scores of zero-hours workers and employees on other types of contract.
However, the report suggests that “one-sided flexibility” is still an issue in zero-hours employment. Only 57% of employers with zero-hours staff give them the option to turn down work, while only 33% compensate workers if they cancel shifts with less than 24 hours’ notice.
Furthermore, many zero-hours contract workers receive little advance notice of their work
schedules, which can create difficulty over planning finances and managing childcare.
Ben Willmott, head of public policy at the CIPD, said: “People’s experience of zero-hours work varies widely depending on their individual circumstances and how they are managed. Many people benefit from this very flexible way of working, and in return, are prepared to make some trade-offs in other areas of job quality.
“Simply banning zero-hours contracts would disadvantage the majority of those workers for whom they provide genuine two-way flexibility, and in some cases could limit access to employment altogether. The nuanced and mixed picture of both the benefits and downsides of zero-hours contracts set out in our report suggests it is time for a more balanced debate about their place in the labour market.”
In order to ensure that zero-hours contracts are used in a responsible way, the report recommends that:
- the government introduces a right to request a more stable contract or working arrangement after six months. This had been proposed in the government’s Good Work Plan, but has not come to fruition
- a statutory code of practice on the responsible management of zero-hours workers is created. This should include a requirement for compensation if shifts are cancelled with little or no notice
- labour market enforcement is improved through the creation of a single enforcement body. This has already been proposed by the government
- ‘worker’ status be abolished, to help clarify the rights of zero-hours and casual workers.