Employers under increased pressure to reform zero-hour worker contracts

By Gary Adair

 Employers in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK are under increasing pressure to improve working conditions for workers on zero-hour contracts.

The new Living Hours programme seeks to offer greater job security to zero-hour contract workers by requiring employers to pay the actual Living Wage and give workers at least four weeks’ notice of shifts.

The programme, which was created by The Living Wage Foundation charity in order to improve employee rights, states that workers will also get a contract which actually reflects the hours worked, as well as being guaranteed at least 16 hours of work a week.

The move comes amidst renewed calls for the abolition of zero-hour contracts on the grounds of them representing non-existent job security and a serious danger to mental health.

The primary strain a zero-hour contract can have on someone is often cited as the inability to effectively plan time outside of work. Zero-hour contract workers have to be available for work on little to no notice, so their ability to allow for downtime is severely limited.

People on zero-hour contracts often describe the uncertainty of having to be available for work that might happen as exhausting.

Moreover, any work that does come in may be cancelled at little or no notice, and while the occasional off shift doesn’t sound like a big deal, they can quickly add up for someone who is already struggling to make ends meet.

Katherine Chapman, the director of The Living Wage Foundation stated that “the Living Wage has put almost £1bn extra into the pockets of more than 200,000 workers, but it’s increasingly clear that pay is not the only driver of in-work poverty.”

She went on to say that “a lack of secure, stable hours is leaving millions of families struggling to keep their heads above water. This isn’t good for workers or businesses.”

The charity also said that more than five million workers in the UK earn less than the real Living Wage and are in are some form of insecure work, with two million of these employees being parents.

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