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I have a zero hours contract. Can my employer make me wait on site in case there is work to do and then send me away without pay if there isn't any work?
No. You are entitled to be paid the National Minimum Wage for all the time that you are required by your employer to spend waiting "at or near the workplace" (other than at home), to see if work is available. You must be paid for all these hours. It doesn't matter whether the time is described as 'on-call', 'standby' or 'downtime'. If you are required to be available for work at or near the workplace, you must be paid at least the National Minimum Wage for those hours.
If you have a zero hours contract, your contract terms probably allow your employer to tell you at short notice when you are needed and to send you away when you are not needed, but as a minimum, you must be paid for the time you are required to spend waiting "at or near the workplace".
Have a look at your contract terms and show them to your union rep if you are unsure.
The TUC campaigns for much stronger protection of zero hours contract workers, including compensation when zero hours shifts are cancelled at short notice. The best way of improving your position is by joining a trade union and encouraging your workmates to do the same, so that better terms can be negotiated by the union through collective bargaining. Browse our Union Finder tool for more information.