Zero hours: surge in interest as SMEs see the appeal

ClearSky HR, which provides fixed-fee employment law advice to small and medium-sized businesses, has been inundated with calls from companies seeking advice on the introduction of zero-hours contracts since the scandal erupted earlier this year.

Helen Pedder, group head of HR at Cheshire-based ClearSky, said: “The sudden and dramatic interest we have had from SMEs keen to implement zero-hours contracts has been truly remarkable.

“One may have expected the recent negative publicity surrounding zero-hours to have put employers off the idea, but it seems the exact opposite is true.

“The more employers read about zero hours, the more they like the idea and the keener they are to introduce such contractual arrangements themselves.

“Before zero hours hit the headlines, we barely had any calls about it.

“Now, in the space of a couple of weeks, we have been contacted by scores of employers wanting to find out more – and that’s despite growing calls for a crackdown.”

In September, a study estimated that the number of British workers on zero-hours contracts could be as high as 5.5 million.

Labour leader Ed Miliband has vowed to end the “misuse” of zero-hours contracts if he becomes prime minister.

While stopping short of pledging an outright ban, Miliband wants to prevent employers from being able to insist that zero-hours workers remain available when no work is guaranteed.

He also said a Labour government would outlaw zero-hours contracts that tie workers to one company exclusively, and end the practice of individuals being employed on zero-hours contracts over long periods.

Meanwhile, business secretary Vince Cable also promised a crackdown on zero-hours contracts during a speech at the recent Lib Dem party conference in Glasgow.

“It’s our experience that small businesses are intrigued by the possibility of being able to introduce zero-hours contracts, and want to know how to go about it the right way – ideally without damaging staff morale”, added Pedder.

“The employers that we have spoken to are in no way seeking to exploit their workers. Rather, they are simply looking to offer a flexible way of working that suits everyone within the organisation.”

ClearSky HR, which last month fired a broadside at its rivals in the employment law and health & safety advice sector , says small businesses in range of sectors – including tourism, hospitality, business services and food & drink – have sought advice on zero hours.