Workers at Hovis have gone on strike this week in the first major workforce backlash over the use of zero hours contracts.
The move follows heated public and political debate sparked by CIPD research, which suggested that up to one million workers were on zero hours contracts in the UK – quadruple official estimates.
The industrial action at the bakery in Wigan, one of 10 Hovis sites in the UK, is the first of three week-long walkouts planned in the local dispute.
The stoppages have been instigated by the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union over the introduction of agency staff on zero hour contracts, who were drafted in after the redundancy of nearly 30 Hovis employees in April.
Premier Foods, which owns Hovis, said that the redundancies were due to the loss of a contract with The Co-op, and that the zero hours agency workers had been brought in to address fluctuating demand.
The government is currently undertaking a review into the breadth and impact of zero hours contracts, after it emerged that some retailers employ their entire workforce on a zero hours basis.
But could this type of employment contract be made illegal? Business secretary Vince Cable has said not – but Labour MP Andy Sawford has already tabled a bill calling for them to be outlawed.
Zero hours contracts are also about to face their first test at employment tribunal. A Sports Direct sales assistant has brought a case against the retailer, claiming that the contracts discriminate against part-time workers.
She is arguing that despite her “casual” status, the reality of her working arrangements entitled her to be treated no less favourably than full-time staff. Her claim is being funded by the campaign group 38 Degrees.
Lucy McLynn, partner and employment law expert at Bates Wells Braithwaite, said: “If there are full-time permanent employees doing comparable jobs, the zero hours employees may be able to rely on the Part Time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2000 to claim the same rights in respect of contractual entitlements such as sick pay, and the amount of holiday given as their colleagues.”
Meanwhile, following speculation that the Office for National Statistics greatly undershot its estimate on the number of zero hours contracts in the UK, the data collection body has since announced a re-evaluation of the way it calculates figures in this area.
However, business groups have been quick to point out that increasing flexibility in the UK workforce – including the burgeoning use of zero hours contracts – was a vital factor in preventing even higher levels of unemployment during the recession.
Article taken from CIPD – Written by Michelle Stevens
If you currently use zero hour contracts in your business, contact Spectra on 0845 224 7013 for a free review to ensure you are using them in a fair and consistent manner.