Q: I graduated from university last year with a degree in music. My aim is to become a professional classical musician but currently I am teaching in a large secondary school. I took a position with a zero hours’ contract because at the time it was the only position I could find.
I knew I would only be covering for absent members of staff but was led to believe I would virtually be working full time. This is however not the case, yet I am expected to be free whenever they choose to call on me. This is causing me great difficulties financially. Worse, despite not being told so at the time of my appointment, it transpires that I cannot do any other work as my contract excludes me from working elsewhere. Is this legal?
A: Despite pressure from the unions to render zero-hours contracts illegal, the government has so far declined to make them so. It has however acknowledged that exclusivity provisions, for example clauses which prohibit a worker from doing work or performing services under any other contract or arrangement, undermine choice and flexibility and may be open to abuse on the part of the employer.
As a result of the government’s acknowledgment employers are soon to be banned from stopping staff with zero-hours contracts seeking additional work elsewhere. The ban will be introduced by the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill 2014-15 currently going through Parliament. In the meantime it is worth remembering that if you have a zero-hours contract you are still at liberty to turn down hours offered to you by your employer if you cannot or do not want to work them. Whether you have a zero-hours contract or another type of employment contract, you should seek legal advice if you do not understand it.