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Zero-hours-working in the UK, functional equivalents and policy responses

2014 Conference Presentation

Workforce United Kingdom

3 September 2014

Zero-hours-working in the UK, functional equivalents and policy responses

Bernard H Casey, University of Warwick, United Kingdom


Care-sector jobs require the working of “unsocial hours”, whilst demand for services is often unpredictable. At the same time, care providing organisations are increasingly financially constrained – government money is in short supply, insurers are trying to hold down costs, and those who have to finance their own care often have limited resources.

Given the highly labourintensive nature of care, one way in which costs can be contained is to act on levels of pay; another is to act on the hours that are paid. Zero-hours contracts provide a solution that has been used in the UK. Employers can call upon staff but are not required to guarantee them a minimum number of hours work, can fix times and can change schedules – often with little notice. The proposed paper would look at the incidence of zero-hours-working in the UK. In the last year, the apparent growth of such employment across many sectors of the UK economy has been a source of interest and unease. Politicians, trade unions and academics have commented on it have proposed actions to limit what some see as abuse. Because of its high incidence in the social care sector, there have been worries that the extension of such working practices has contributed to a decline in the quality of service provided.

The paper will outline the context in which zero hours working has grown. It will draw on data both for the economy as a whole and for the social care sector in particular. It will look at employers’ motives, at the characteristics of the zero-hours-workers themselves, and at their views on this form of employment. It will also examine whether zero-hours-working is a peculiarly British phenomenon, whether it is to be found in other countries and, if not, how employers operating in different environments find remedies for the challenges that the use of zero-hours contracts was developed to meet.