There is a common misunderstanding that a zero-hours contract worker has no statutory rights. This is not true. You will be entitled to basic statutory employment rights such as the National Minimum Wage (NMW), holiday pay and statutory rest breaks, based on the hours that you are required to work.
Even if your written contract terms say that your employer is not obliged to provide work and that you are not obliged to accept it, as soon as you accept it – even if just for one shift or assignment – there will be a legal contract in place obliging you to perform that shift or assignment. As long as you agree to perform it 'personally' (i.e. to do the work yourself rather than by sending someone else, or by using a limited company) you will be a 'worker'. As a result, you will qualify for ‘worker’ rights, including the NMW, holiday pay, rest breaks and freedom from discrimination.
Some of the statutory rights available to workers – such as the right to Statutory Maternity Pay or Statutory Sick Pay – depend on you earning above the Lower Earnings Limit of £118 per week from one employer. Some zero-hours contract workers may struggle to meet this threshold, especially if you rely on more than one job.
In practice, it is important to recognise that the main barriers to enforcing rights as a zero-hours contract worker are not usually legal but practical – especially the risk of your hours being 'zeroed down' if you complain about the way you are treated. Now is a good time to think about joining a trade union. There is no need to tell your employer.
Across all the sectors where zero hours contracts have become common, including retail, hospitality, social care and the gig economy, unions are making gains for workers, whether by bringing test cases in the employment tribunal, campaigning to tackle abuses, negotiating improvements to terms and conditions or helping workers to connect and organise.
Browse our Union Finder tool for the most suitable union for you.