There’s a huge amount of debate in the UK at present about zero hour contracts of employment. 

For those outside the UK, in simple terms it means you have a job, but your employer doesn’t give you a fixed working day. In some cases, the likely hours for a week may be notified towards the end of the previous week; in others, employees may not know from day to day what hours, if any, they will work. 

It is apparently favoured by some companies in the service sector – shops, cinemas, restaurants, care homes etc. It’s become increasingly obvious that current ONS data on the number employed in this way understates the total – possibly by a very large factor. 

The debate also centres on the positives and the negatives. 

For the employer, it provides an opportunity to match demand with staffing levels, either to a fixed daily pattern, or to increase staff levels when demand surges, or decrease levels if there’s an unexpected fall. 

For staff, some may welcome the increased flexibility this can provide, but it creates a high degree of uncertainty for others – will I work today/this week; how much will I earn this week; what about taking a holiday or if I’m sick?

However, in all the comment, there appears to be little real knowledge, just lots of speculation and anecdotal evidence. 

We don’t really know how many are working this way; what are the trends in numbers; what do those working this way really feel about zero hours contracts – are there more negatives or positives out there; what’s the real financial impact for both parties; what’s the commitment to the organisation of zero hour employees; how does this impact on the service experience for customers etc. 

Some argue that it’s good to have jobs being created in the current economic climate; others argue that economic recovery will be stunted if people face financial uncertainty, at a time when we need to boost spending power. 

We appear to be short on real facts, but high on conjecture

According to what I’ve read, zero hours contracts started to appear in the late 1990s, but have probably become more established in the current recession. 

Is this something imported into the UK, or is it an imported trait in employment practices? If it is the latter, is there evidence from elsewhere we can look to for some tentative answers?

It seems to me that we need some robust research to answer these very important questions - or have I missed something?

As ever, your comments are always valued, so please respond below. 

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