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Zero hours contracts – review

Chris Mordue comments on the Government’s planned review of zero hours contracts.13 Aug 2013

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NEWS – 13 August 2013

Zero hours contracts - review

On Friday we covered the news of Vince Cable's planned review of zero hours contracts - which is looking ever more likely in view of the huge amount of press coverage this subject has generated in the last two or three weeks. Whether the review will lead to any meaningful change to zero hours appears to be far less clear. Vince Cable has ruled out banning them - but a change of some kind is very much on the cards and it is something employers will need to watch closely, many of whom rely extensively on zero hours contracts in their business. With his thoughts on the review and likelihood of changes, Chris Mordue: 

Chris Mordue: "Well there is certainly a lot of commentary about zero hours contracts at the moment and that has undoubtedly generating some very negative PR for the employers concerned. I think that the zero hours contract label is being applied to cover quite a wide and diverse range of contracts and, more importantly, practices that sit behind those contracts. So it's a convenient label to use but I think not everyone is using the same term to refer to the same thing. I think that's particularly important in terms of the Government's response because the furore at the moment about zero hours contracts undoubtedly means there will be some Government response and that's likely to be in the form of guidance but I think we can also expect to see some degree of regulation but the issue is really how do you regulate a particular form of contractual relationship? I don't think the Government will say zero hours contracts must be banned. I think what you're more likely to see is that certain aspects of the employment practices that go around this type of contractual relationship will be regulated or outlawed. So for example, Vince Cable has already indicated that where employers are using these contracts with an exclusivity provision - so one the one hand saying we have no obligation to offer you work but you can't work for anyone else - then that situation is likely to be outlawed going forward. So I think that's an example of an approach which would focus on particular abusive practices without trying to regulate in a way that meant this form of contract could be used at all. I think there's quite a grey area between what is a zero hours contract in a very abusive sense and what is a casual "as and when required" contract, something which is quite flexible for both employer and employee. So I think this isn't about regulating a definition and outlawing a particular concept, it's really about regulating the employment practices that sit behind these contracts and I think that's what we'll see from the Government in their response."

Vince Cable has been talking about a possible Government-led review of zero hours contracts later in the year and we will track that closely for you.

Discrimination - pregnant women and mothers

The other aspect of employment news which hit the press last week - HR press and national press too - concerned discrimination of pregnant women and mothers. It was triggered by a new survey which shows that more than a quarter of pregnant women and mothers in the UK feel discriminated against at work. Some came forward to speak about the problem - former art teacher Rebecca Raven who sued her employer, and the CBI's Director for employment, Neil Carberry, both talked to the BBC:

BBC report:

Equality and diversity training for line managers

Neil Carberry in that interview specifically referred to line managers with "old fashioned attitudes" and it is, of course, HR's job to educate them, or at least put in place the kind of training that will help them to understand basic equality and discrimination laws. For many large employers with thousands of people to train up in this way that is a significant challenge. To help with that Pinsent Masons' Employment Group has developed a new "off the shelf" e-learning product aimed at training up line managers on equality and diversity. It also has a very simple pricing structure. Maria Passemard explains:

Maria Passemard: "We've developed a fantastic new product which is an interactive online e-learning product which tests managers' understanding of equality and diversity law. It is very practical and very hands-on and we have got lots of great features in it. What is so great about it is it gives you the opportunity to train a large number of employees across a geographically diverse area. We realise it is not often practical to get all of those people together for a face to face training session and a lot of our clients have said "we love your training but we would like to have it online" so we have responded to that by producing this e-learning product. We've chosen equality and diversity as our topic for the e-learning for a number of reasons. The main one is it helps employers tick the box for compliance. A lot of employers want to be able to demonstrate that they have trained their managers in equality and diversity law so that they can demonstrate they have taken a risk based approach to dealing with tribunal claims and dealing with equality and diversity. They are able to help themselves provide a reasonable steps defence if they are ever challenged with a discrimination claim in the tribunal and it also helps managers understand their obligations on day to day basis when managing employees. One of the things we have found is that a lot of the e-learning products out there have quite complicated cost structures and trying to understand exactly what you are going to be charged can be complicated. What we have done is de-mystify that and we have come up with a very simple structure. So, for example, if you had over 249 users that were going to access the e-learning module we would charge a one off fee – no subscription model, just a one off fee – and for that one off fee you could train as many employees as you wanted to. So you could include it as part of your induction for every employee to undertake this training, or every manager to undertake this training as part of an induction process. So it is extremely cost effective."

Full details of the pricing structure and details of the content of the course itself are available on our website. Just click on the E-learning tab at the top of the homepage and go to E-Learn+. We've also put a link to that in the transcript of this programme.

For now, from me, that's the news. Good bye.

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