Unions say zero-hours workers’ review doesn’t go far enough

Workers on zero-hours contracts could be given the right to request a move to a fixed number of hours.

Reports suggest that Matthew Taylor’s review into modern employment practices, due to be published this summer, will recommend a new right for workers on zero-hours contracts to request a guaranteed number of hours from their employer.

This would place the right to request guaranteed hours in a similar status to current employee rights such as requesting flexible working. Employers would have to provide sound business reasons in order to refuse the request.

Sources told the BBC that Mr Taylor had been impressed by the example of McDonald’s, which last month offered all its staff on zero hours contracts the chance to move onto fixed hours.

McDonald’s employees in New Zealand protest against zero-hour contracts. Photograph: NZTEU

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) backs the idea, saying flexible working arrangements should benefit both parties. The suggestion was one of the recommendations made in its submission to the Taylor review.

However, as reported in the Guardian, some trade unions have criticised the new rules for not going far enough.

The TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said: “This could mean close to zero action on zero-hours contracts. A ‘right to request’ guaranteed hours from an exploitative boss is no right at all for many workers.

“To make a real change, we should turn this policy on its head. Everyone should be entitled to guaranteed hours, with a genuine choice for workers to opt out, free from pressure from their boss. Anyone asked to work outside their contracted hours should be paid extra on top of their usual wage.”

Tim Roache, the general secretary of the GMB union, said: “That’s going to make absolutely no difference to people’s lives. It’s tantamount to ‘please sir, can I have some more?’

“The very nature of a zero-hours contract means that any employee making noises about rights, proper hours or how they’re treated will simply find they don’t get any hours next week.”