It is obvious that a significant number of unscrupulous employers are using zero-hours contracts (ZHC) to drive down wage costs and exploit those desperate for work.
It is equally obvious that for a certain number of employers and employees a zero-hours contract is both productive and appropriate: both sides prioritise the flexibility the contract enshrines.
The problem that the politicians who want to regularise the contracts face is prosecuting the first out of existence while accommodating the second.
The principal beneficiary of a ZHC is the employer who can draw down labour as and when their business requires it without the cost and bureaucracy of a full-time employee with full employment rights.
For those employees who want a ZHC, the principal benefit is an element of employment flexibility. How to square the circle?
I suggest firstly a “cool-off” period of two weeks after an employee has signed a ZHC (like a hire purchase or loan agreement) before the contract becomes enforceable.
Secondly, all ZHCs could be put on a “universal” format – layout and wording approved by government – which includes a full explanation of the employers’ and employees’ rights.
Thirdly, there could be a cash deposit from the employer to the employee (say half an average week’s pay) only refundable if the employee is dismissed for disciplinary reasons, or an “on call” allowance similar to that built into other pay packages.
There is no reason why an employer shouldn’t pay a little towards the flexibility that he wants.
Zero hours need not be zero pay.