In 2015, brewing giant Greene King took over ownership of the
Spirit Pub Company (Spirit), including its 16,000 workers, the
majority of whom were, and are, engaged under zero hours
A zero hours contract is a contract for casual working, under
which the employer does not guarantee to provide the worker with
any work and pays the worker only for work actually carried out.
The worker is expected to be available for work when or if called
on by the employer although the term can be used to describe
situations both where the worker is free to accept or refuse work
when it is offered, and where the worker is not given such a right
of refusal. Whether or not the person engaged under a zero hours
contract is, in fact, a worker or an employee will depend upon the
wording of the contract but also, and more importantly, how the
relationship actually operates in practice.
At the time of the purchase of Spirit, Greene King had already
moved all of its staff away from zero hours contracts. It now
intends to do the same in relation to the Spirit staff. This means
that thousands of staff at household names such as Chef &
Brewer and Wacky Warehouse will, over the course of the next year,
be guaranteed a minimum number of hours' work. This follows on
from similar announcements across various sectors, with the
Everyman cinema chain also confirming that it will be following the
example of not only Greene King but also Everyman's rival,
Curzon Cinemas, and retailer Sports Direct.
Despite ongoing criticism of the use of zero hours contracts,
they continue, however, to be widely used, particularly in the
hospitality sector. In fact, data published by the Office of
National Statistics (ONS) on 8 September 2016 suggests that zero
hours contracts are now more widely used than ever. 2.9% of the
people in employment that the ONS surveyed consider themselves to
be engaged under a zero hours contract, with this percentage
increasing steadily since 2010.
This means that 903,000 people are currently engaged under zero
hours contracts and this is not always seen as a bad thing. The
chairman of pub company JD Wetherspoon has said that when offered a
choice between a zero hours contract and a contract guaranteeing
certain working hours, two-thirds of his staff opted to move off
zero hours contracts. However, in stark contrast, McDonalds has
stated that when workers in three of its north-west stores were
given such an option, over 80% of the employees opted to stay on
their existing flexible, zero hours contracts. It continues to be
the case, it seems, that whilst zero hours contracts may give rise
to uncertainty and exploitation, they may also offer the
flexibility which is desirable for certain employers and
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