The Zero-Hours Contract

zero hour

Le contrat zéro heure est un type de contrat de travail utilisé au Royaume-Uni qui touche désormais plus d’un million de travailleurs britanniques. Dans ce contrat, tous les avantages sont du côté de l’employeur. Cependant, il semble de plus en plus contesté, et notamment remis en question par le Labour Party qui promet de lutter contre cette épidémie s’il gagne les prochaines élections.


Zero-hours contracts are a kind of contract used in the United Kingdom, which enable the employer to hire workers in very favourable conditions for him / her. Indeed, he / she doesn’t have to set a minimum working time and the minimum salary is 5.99 pounds an hour (7.30 euros). Furthermore, the worker must be ready to work for any length of time depending on his / her employer’s needs and, in many cases, he / she is warned only a few hours before. Some contracts prevent workers from working for another employer and only the working hours are paid. This kind of contract is established for a long time. For instance, McDonald’s has used it since 1974. Retail as well as fast food chains have been very keen to use them. According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), 1 million Britons are working under such contracts. So zero-hours contracts have long been controversial and still are a divisive issue in Britain.

These contracts may provide “a route into employment and flexibility for staff, but that isn’t good enough for the Left“. Iain Duncan Smith, a conservative MP who has been the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions since 2010, ardently defends the zero-hours contract. He refers to it as something “positive and helpful” because, he says, it allows these people to balance their timetable between work, leisure or family. He claims the contracts give employers more wage flexibility so they can better adapt to market expectations and be much more competitive. Furthermore, students use these contracts to earn money and acquire valuable work experience during their holidays.

For the left however, these contracts look a lot like exploitation. They denounce an obvious form of abuse by employers. If Ed Miliband wins the next general election, he promises to fight the epidemic of zero-hours contracts by giving employees more rights: “They should get a contract with fixed hours if they work regularly for the same employer for a year”, he argues. 

The platform of the Labour Party consists in giving employees more guarantees; for example, to clarify the status of their contract (their role and position), to ask for a minimum number of hours after 6 months of hiring and to obtain the right to a fixed-hours contract after 12 months with an employer.

Nevertheless it would seem that the employers will find ways to bypass these measures by hiring for fewer than 6 months, for example.

Florian DUVALLET & Matthieu FUTERAL 


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