Thompsons Solicitors has criticised a proposal to allow zero-hour workers the right to request guaranteed hours, saying it doesn’t do enough to ensure their basic rights. 

More than a million people in the UK­­­­­ are working in the ‘gig economy’, according to recent research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. Many are on zero-hour contracts that some unscrupulous employers exploit to avoid affording workers’ basic rights, such as minimum wage and holiday pay. 

A government-commissioned review into employment practices, being led by the chief executive of the Royal Society of Arts, Matthew Taylor, is expected to argue new rules are needed to protect workers when it is published later this month. But its recommendations that such workers are afforded the right to request guaranteed hours, in the same manner employees can currently request flexible working, has left Thompsons – and many trade unions - dissatisfied. 

“The right to ask doesn’t guarantee any action by employers when they receive a request,” said Rakesh Patel, head of employment rights strategy at Thompsons Solicitors. “This review should be recommending rules that ensure workers are guaranteed hours, with the choice to opt out.”

"While we welcome any move that would increase job security, which the review potentially offered, it appears from this recommendation to be an opportunity missed. The reforms suggested will make little real difference in practice to the hundreds of thousands of workers now in precarious employment in the UK."

Rakesh Patel
head of employment rights strategy at Thompsons Solicitors

The limited option of being able to request fixed hours, disappointingly, mirrors the suggestion of the main employer’s organisation, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI). 

But unions say it will make no real difference to people’s lives, with Frances O’Grady, TUC general secretary, saying “this could mean close to zero action on zero-hours contracts”. 

Mr Patel added: “Thompsons works closely with union clients to ensure their members are fairly represented and compensated for mistreatment at work, and we’re in agreement with the trade unions on this zero-hours issue. From our experience, the unions are spot on in their reaction to this mealy-mouth proposal. 

“There is a real risk here that those who make a request for fixed hours will suffer unfair consequences for having done so. 

“While we welcome any move that would increase job security, which the review potentially offered, it appears from this recommendation to be an opportunity missed. The reforms suggested will make little real difference in practice to the hundreds of thousands of workers now in precarious employment in the UK.”