Zero-hours contracts: Are they needed in hospitality?

By Luke Nicholls

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Employment Contract

Exploitation? The hotel, catering and leisure industry employs around half a million people on zero-hours contracts
Exploitation? The hotel, catering and leisure industry employs around half a million people on zero-hours contracts
The term ‘zero-hours contract’ generates more light than heat and is vague and unhelpful, according to the British Hospitality Association (BHA), which claims variable hours of work in hotels, restaurants and pubs across the UK has been central to job creation and economic growth.

The debate over zero-hours contracts has been heating up over the past few days, with Business Secretary Vince Cable fearing they are being exploited, and research suggesting that a million people could be working under them – the hotel, catering and leisure industry makes up almost half of that number.

But according to a number of leading organisations in the hospitality industry there is a strong case for keeping the agreements, which do not oblige an employer to offer guaranteed hours of work.

“The hospitality industry is in need of contracts which have variable hours to cover all sorts of demand fluctuations for example weddings and banqueting,” a spokesperson for the BHA told BigHospitality.

“As an industry, hospitality is at the heart of UK economic growth and job creation, generating over 150,000 new jobs between 2010 and 2012. That's a third of the total new jobs in the UK. This has in part been possible due to the availability of a flexible labour market.

“Of course, as an industry the need for variable and flexible contracts shouldn't detract from a total commitment to provide quality training, working conditions and career progression opportunities."

Varied use

Some of Britain's largest hospitality operators have refrained from using zero-hours contracts

There are two types of contracts associated with the term ‘zero-hours’. The most common type is when both the employer and the employee are committed to variable hours of work – the employer doesn’t have to offer work and the employee doesn’t have to accept it.

The other, less common type of contract is when there is a contractual agreement binding the employee to turn up for work whenever asked by the employer.

When quizzed by BigHospitality, Britain’s largest hospitality business operator Whitbread revealed it does not operate zero-hour employment contracts, neither does the Café Rouge, Bella Italia, and Strada operator Tragus Group.

Meanwhile, research from our sister title the Publican’s Morning Advertiserfound that the use of zero-hour contracts is ‘varied’ across the pub trade, with the likes of Mitchells & Butlers and Stonegate not offering them and pub operator Greene King ‘currently in the process of removing’ the practice.

Negative impact

But it should not be assumed that their use was automatically wrong, cautioned hospitality consultancy Solutions 4 Caterers.

Director Peter Flaxman said: “While it may seem to outsiders that zero hours contracts are unfair, and indeed they can make it difficult for employees to plan their financial affairs, there is a strong case for keeping them, particularly in the hospitality industry.

“The hospitality industry is seasonal, and impacted by factors such as the weather and local events, and for this reason it is necessary for staff to change in line with these fluctuations.

This is where zero hours contracts are incredibly useful, and so they are used extensively to assist with this, although core employees are often salaried or have guaranteed hours.

“By using zero hours contracts, it is possible for employers to manage wages in line with fluctuating business levels. What this means for businesses in the current economic climate is that they have a better chance of success, whilst also having the opportunity to create more jobs when needed.

“We hope that this review will not lead to the end of these contracts, as this would have a negative impact on the hospitality industry.”

So… What do you think? Are you employed on a zero-hours contract? Do you agree with Cable’s view that some operators are abusing them, or perhaps you think such flexible hours are a necessity in the hospitality? Cast your vote below and leave a comment at the bottom of the article.


Zero-hours contracts: Are they needed in hospitality?

  • YES - flexible hours are a necessary in the industry

  • NO - They are exploitative upon a vulnerable workforce


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