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Ministers to consider outlawing exclusivity on zero hours contracts

These measures come as part of efforts to boost fairness for workers.

In a consultation launched today, the government will also outline proposals on ways to tackle the lack of transparency in the way zero hours contracts are currently being used and improve guidance for both employers and employees around their use.

Business Secretary Vince Cable said, “A growing number of employers and individuals today are using zero hour contracts. While for many people they offer a welcome flexibility to accommodate childcare or top up monthly earnings, for others it is clear that there has been evidence of abuse around this type of employment which can offer limited employment rights and job security. We believe they have a place in today’s labour market and are not proposing to ban them outright, but we also want to make sure that people are getting a fair deal.

“Our research this summer gave us a much needed insight into both the positive and negative aspects of zero hours contracts. Our consultation will now focus on tackling the key concerns that were raised, such as exclusivity clauses and how to provide workers with more protection. We don’t think that people should be tied exclusively to one employer if it unfairly stops them from boosting their income when they are not getting enough work to earn a living. We also want to give employees and employers more guidance and advice on these types of employment contracts.

“Employers need flexible workforces and people should have the choice in how they work. But this shouldn't be at the expense of fairness and transparency.”

The 12 week public consultation will run until 13 March 2014 and will seek views on a range of proposals including:

Proposals to potentially ban the use of exclusivity clauses in contracts that offer no guarantee of work

New advice and guidance to improve transparency around the use of zero hours contracts for employers and employees

The launch of the consultation follows a fact-finding exercise that was carried out over the summer by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) to explore how these contracts are currently being used.

Following Cable’s announcement, Samantha Hurley, head of external relations at APSCo, said, “We welcome Cable’s announcement and the Government’s apparent desire to retain zero hour contracts because they offer & lsquo;welcome flexibility’ to some workers.  While zero hour contracts are unusual in the professional staffing sector, we have always stated that there are occasions where these types of contracts are useful – locum doctors or supply teachers, for example.

“APSCo has previously expressed its support for a review of zero hour contracts – to not only ensure that there is acknowledgment of the benefits a flexible labour market, but to also ensure vulnerable workers are not exploited. We are pleased, therefore, that the Government is seriously considering stopping the use of exclusivity contracts, as well as calling for more transparency within contracts”.

PCG’s chief executive, Chris Bryce, said, “Clearly, businesses need access to flexible resource and zero hours contracts deliver that. However, restrictive handcuffs used by some employers smacks of exploitation. Flexibility has to work both ways an exclusivity clause is fundamentally against the spirit of flexible working.

“Today’s announcement by the Business Secretary is an encouraging sign that the Government recognises the importance of flexible working to the economy. Mr Cable’s words provide reassurance that any measures designed to stamp out exploitation of vulnerable workers will not negatively affect genuine independent professionals in business on their own account.

“The way we work in this country is fundamentally changing. In the flexible labour market that we have now, this route is not only available to the upper echelons of the market as it has been historically but also to young people, working mothers, and anyone who might choose this way of working as a viable alternative to permanent employment.

"With the growth of new industries such as digital technology, becoming an independent professional is no longer the preserve of the vastly experienced, highly skilled sectors of the workforce. We would urge the Government to ensure those choosing to work in this way are not confused with vulnerable workers.”



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