It’s coming up for 5pm on a Friday, if you’re one of the 1.8 million workers in the UK who are employed on a zero-hours contract, it’s likely that instead of closing up shop and getting ready for the weekend, you’re on your way to work. Unfortunately, unlike your fellow workers in secure employment, you might receive a message from your employer, telling you you’re no longer needed, and you simply have to turn around. Or you might arrive at work, and are told that in fact they’re not as busy tonight as they thought, and you’re sent home. You are not then paid for the shift that you had been scheduled to do. This can leave you facing bills, childcare costs and travel expenses without the weekly income you budgeted for. It can also leave you missing out on social events you turned down, as you thought you would be working.
Last minute cancellation of shifts for those on zero hours contracts has become a norm. It allows employers total control, and leaves workers out of pocket and unable to make plans. It would not be accepted in a fixed hours workplace; an office worker on a 35 hour week would not expect their employer to simply send them home without pay, if the phones were quiet one day. Employers of fixed hour workers understand that they are obliged to provide their staff with the work and salary which was promised at the outset of their employment.
Alasdair Thomson was a worker in a bar in Inverness. One Friday night, not for the first time, his employer cancelled Alasdair’s shift on his arrival at work. Alasdair, a worker with years of experience in the hospitality industry, was all too used to this treatment and decided the time had come to challenge it. He turned to the Better than Zero campaign to see what could be done. This was an issue Thompsons welcomed the chance to pursue. We understand that without support, workers facing this difficulty can be in a vulnerable position, so we were delighted to offer Alasdair pro bono assistance.
The legal position here is not complicated. Employers seem to believe that if they use zero hours contracts, they can cancel shifts as and when they like - that is simply not the case. At the point where an employer draws up a rota, or contacts their staff to advise them of their shifts, a contract is made that on those dates the employer will supply that work, and the worker will do the work. Like any other contract, cancellation can only be acceptable with reasonable notice, if the employer is not able to give reasonable notice, they are in breach of that contract and should pay their worker for the full shift.
An employment tribunal claim which made this argument was raised on Alasdair’s behalf. The employer accepted their liability and paid Alasdair the full value of what he was owed, before Alasdair was able to bring his case in front of a judge. This is a significant case which Thompsons hopes will help to support workers to put their head above the parapet and challenge the exploitation of those in precarious work. We understand this can be hard for individuals to do, and hope that this legal win can provide a toolkit which emboldens workers to make clear to employers that they know what their entitlements are.
Thompsons looks forward to the progress that will be made as the consequences of this case are put into practice. Our aim is ensure that, irrespective of their employment status or the industry they work in, all workers can expect their basic employment rights to be recognised and respected.
Blog by Lois Madden, Solicitor