What part will atypical contracts play in working life in Dorset and Hampshire?

  26th February 2015      
 Company News, Employment, Human Resources

By Suzi Dixon, Community Editor

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As we close the second month of 2015, it is clear that ‘non-standard’ forms of work will continue to have a big part to play in the future of business. Atypical contracts, zero-hours contracts, flex-time, home-working – all these are now commonplace, if not somewhat controversial.

A collaboration between HR Zone, ACAS and CIPD, the Workplace Trends of 2015 document looks at hot topics in employment currently. It seems the key debate about atypical contracts is who do they really benefit: employer, employee or both?

Everyone from shop workers to those working with MPs can be affected. Ed Miliband may have criticised the concept of zero-hours contracts in the hope of making them a key issue: but last month, the Daily Mail revealed the Labour party have almost 40 members of staff on zero-hours or ‘casual’ contracts.

And while zero-hours contracts may have benefitted Sports Direct at first, the company is now facing a claim for millions of pounds from nearly 300 workers excluded from a bonus scheme because they were on zero-hours contracts.

Lawyers acting for the part-time staff sent letters to Sports Direct’s legal team claiming a total of just over £1million in compensation for a first batch of 30 workers. The individual claims average about £36,000 each but the highest is worth more than £100,000.

Stewart Gee, the Head of Information and Guidance at ACAS, says the arguments in the press about zero-hours contracts prove our opinions are polarised as “one person’s flexibility is another’s insecurity.”

The latest Workplace Employment Relations Study showed a sharp rise in the proportion of workplaces using zero-hours contracts — up from 4% to 8% between 2004 and 2011.

“The European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions defines atypical work as that which departs from the standard model of full-time, regular, open-ended employment with a single employer over a long period,” he said.

“After much debate, exclusivity clauses have been identified as one of the main problems with these (zero-hours) contracts — whereby employees are contractually prevented from taking work elsewhere even though they have no guarantee of work. But while government legislation may well tackle some of the worst abuses in zero-hours contracts, it is unlikely to offer a complete answer.”

There are various codes of practise regarding flexible contracts that can help employers be confident that they are doing the right thing for their business – and help employees be aware of their responsibilities, too. Complaints like the Sports Direct case are rare but there will be many more if staff feel like they are being taken advantage of as regards their contract.

“ACAS is very familiar with drafting these codes — most notably the ‘ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures’,” said Mr Gee.

“The proliferation of disciplinary and grievance procedures in workplaces, the vast majority reflecting the ACAS Code of Practice, is perhaps one of ACAS’ success stories. According to the most recent WERS, 97% of employees are in workplaces covered by such a procedure. But neither the law nor soft regulation can guarantee people behave in the right way.

“Looking to the future, Acas will continue to listen to all the actors on the employment stage, particularly those without a strong voice (or sometimes, without a voice at all) and try to influence the way we treat each other in the workplace for the better.”

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