Be afraid. Be very afraid.

November 11, 2014

Drapers reported at the end of last month that Sports Direct has agreed to:

  • spell out details of its zero hours contracts in job adverts, telling applicants that work is not guaranteed,
  • to produce policies around sick pay and holiday arrangements for workers on such contracts,
  • to publish those policies internally, and
  • to remind its store managers that zero hours workers are subject to the company’s equal opportunities policy.

This followed a Tribunal claim by one of its 20,000 workers who are reportedly on zero hours contracts.  The claim never reached the Tribunal, as Sports Direct settled on these terms without admitting liability.

The worker who brought the claim commented in her lawyer’s press release:

“I don’t understand why [Sports Direct] insists on not giving [workers on zero hours contracts] the basic security of guaranteed hours.”

The mismatch here between business reality (the flow of customers into Sports Direct’s shops cannot of course be guaranteed) and what some employees would like that reality to be (to work guaranteed hours even if there are no customers to serve) is stark. Government is committed to banning exclusivity clauses in zero hours contracts that do not guarantee working hours, but employers are not required to provide guaranteed hours of work, nor will legislation create such a legal obligation anytime soon.

In short, zero hours contracts are here to stay.

Quite what this settlement achieves for Sports Direct’s workers is questionable.  The suspicion must be that it was a very small price to pay for Sports Direct.

Other companies will already be taking the steps that Sports Direct agreed to, and almost certainly all high-profile businesses using such contracts will treat their workers fairly and in accordance with their legal obligations.

Perhaps of greater concern for employers is that this case was supported by political activist group, whose mission is to create and then run national campaigns.  Zero hours contracts are the current bête noire of certain parts of the political spectrum, many of whom wilfully ignore the significant benefits they provide for workers and businesses.  However, the knock-on effect of actions of this nature into general employee/worker awareness should not be underestimated.

All employers, large and small, would be well-advised to ensure that their employment practices are in order to avoid if not this type of attack, then more likely opportunistic claims from employees/workers fuelled by the publicity which this type of action creates.

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