A zero-hours contract is one of the most popular contracts in Great Britain, which is a type of a non-employment contract. In Poland, this contract is still unknown to us. It has some similarities to an order contract, but it is completely different in practice. Therefore, it is worth looking at its pros and cons as this trend may also soon become popular in our country. By 2019, around 1.5 million people working in the UK agreed to work under this type of agreement. So what exactly is a zero-hours contract? How different is it from a typical contract? What are the obligations of the employer and what are the rights of the employee?

Legal aspects

This contract must be in line with a current employment legislation and cover the rights of the employees as well as the obligations of the employers. The key element of this contract is that the employer does not guarantee contract hours. The employer does not make a working schedule for a specific employee but rather offers work when an opportunity arises. The employer does not provide minimum working hours, and the employee does not have to accept the current job opportunity. This agreement is used, for example, in case of working as a supplier or as a carer. The employee has the right to a minimum national wage, paid holiday, and travel reimbursement. It guarantees the right to appropriate breaks and rest. This is a bare minimum of employee rights guaranteed by this type of contract, however, each contract can be specified differently and expand the employee’s rights. The eligibility for the minimum national wage does not apply if the person is self-employed. Zero-hours contract may not contain a non-competition clause, so the employee can work for another employer at the same time. This must not cause discrimination, unfair dismissal or disciplinary procedure. Employers should plan job offers and offer the employees as many jobs as possible. Students, retirees or people who might have other obligations are often employed under a zero-hours contract. The employee has the right to refuse the commissioned work and the right to an annual statutory leave.

Social aspects

In September 2017, statistics showed that over 900,000 employees (2.9% of employees) are employed under zero-hour contracts. This contract gives an option of flexible working hours and occasional earnings. It is a good solution for students and retirees as a part-time or temporary job. However, this sort of contract raises criticism and concerns among trade unions operating in Great Britain. The employee risks the refusal of admission to work and the exploitation of the employer. This can cause long periods without being hired and uncertainty in employee schedules which can be problematic for employees with children. Therefore, making this type of agreement is not compatible with social welfare and family policy. In 2016 many companies ceased using this agreement. The International Labor Organization (ILO) classified it as a non-standard form of employment. It should also be mentioned that people working under it cannot receive a mortgage, which is unfavourable to stabilizing society.

Zero-hours contract workers during the coronavirus pandemic

A zero hours contract workers could lose pay if they have to take time off due to the coronavirus. A lot of employees don’t earn enough money to make them eligible for sick pay. Many of them risk taking time off due to quarantine because they receive only the minimum wage. The British media indicated that one in five Britons was misdiagnosed as ill. Another thing is that most restaurants, where employees are employed under this contract, have closed their places. Under normal circumstances, UK workers are entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) as long as they’ve started working for an employer, are sick for at least four days in a row, and earn on average at least £118 per week (£6,136 per year). These rules still apply if you are working on a parttime or fixedterm contract. If an employee doesn’t earn more than the threshold, the employer doesn’t have to pay him for time he takes off sick though. Some organisations are alerting and convincing the government to give every worker the right to sick pay. Employers are trying to take advantage of the situation and not to pay the due allowance. The government has developed the forms of benefit claim to be filled out by employerswho don’t want to pay for them. The employers are obliged to issue the completed application to the employees within seven days. Many employees take vacation instead of sick pay after reaching an agreement with the employer. Holiday pay corresponds to the top-up amount, so in other words these are equivalent to each other.


Marta Zdunek Studentka III roku prawa na wydziale Prawa i Administracji Uniwersytetu Śląskiego w Katowicach

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