Leading trade union law firm Thompsons criticised the consultation as a sham exercise and condemned the widespread use of zero hours contracts to exploit working people.

Zero hours contracts is shorthand for jobs where the worker has no guarantee of work, is only paid for work actually performed, while at other times the worker is required to be available for work and cannot work for other employers.

Thompsons Chief Executive Stephen Cavalier said: “People on zero hours contracts have no guaranteed income and no certainty of when or whether they will be working. They cannot plan their lives, organise childcare or take on commitments. They are forced to accept zero hours contracts on a ‘take it or leave it’ basis. They have no real choice. It is exploitation that needs to be tackled.”

The government consultation proposes no effective solution to this and is a sop to the concern expressed about the issue. Employers can achieve flexibility without resorting to zero hours contracts which exploit the vulnerability of those seeking work and do nothing to build a secure and productive economy, argued Thompsons in its response.

Stephen Cavalier said: “There should be zero tolerance of these exploitative contracts; abuses should be tackled. The government should outlaw zero hours contracts which tie workers to an employer with no guarantee of either work or pay.”

Thompsons’ response proposes:

  • Exclusivity clauses – which stop people taking any other work, even though they are not guaranteed any minimum hours under the zero hours contract – should be banned entirely;
  • All zero hours contracts should be deemed to be contracts of employment – thus giving workers the basic employment rights that entails;
  • Introducing a new mechanism under which, after a period of employment on a zero hours contract, an individual could seek to have it transformed into a “traditional” contract;
  • The right to request a “traditional” employment contract could be introduced under the Part-time Workers Directive;
  • National Minimum Wage legislation should be applied to “on call” periods under ZHCs, thus diminishing the employer’s financial incentive to use these abusive arrangements.

Stephen Cavalier said: “These five measures for reform will put an end to the abuse of zero hours contracts and, if implemented, would be a real signal from the government that they are taking low paid workers and their families seriously.

“There are too many families in the UK living below the poverty line. For the first time, more than half of those in poverty in the UK are working families. Unless urgent action is taken to tackle zero hours contracts, that situation will only get worse.”