I just read a guardian article:

Jeremy Deller's artworks draw links between Victorian factories and zero-hours contracts

What are "zero-hours contracts"?

3 Answers 3


A zero hours contract is one that doesn't gaurantee particular hours of work. It just provides a framework for what the employee's responsibilities will be, how much they will be paid per hour etc.

Legally at least in the UK a zero hours contract goes both ways, the Employer doesn't gaurantee work and the Employee doesn't gaurantee availability or exclusivity. https://www.gov.uk/contract-types-and-employer-responsibilities/zero-hour-contracts

The problem is that especially for low-level jobs (which tends to be where such contracts are mainly used) the balance of power strongly favors the employer. Sure in theory the employee can refuse shifts, either because of personal reasons or because they are working with more than one employer but in practice the employer is likely to replace them with someone more reliable. You are left with people who are theoretically "in work" but find it impossible to pull together enough hours to make a living income.


Zero hour contracts are where you have an employment contract with a company, and thus are required to work when needed. However, you have no guaranteed weekly hours at all, so you can end up working 48 hours one week and none the next.

They have been on the rise in the UK over the past few years for various professions, including ambulance personnel and shop workers. There is basically no upside for the employee, but loads of upside for the employer.

If the employer doesn't need you one week, you don't get paid, but you have to be available if they do want you to work. Otherwise you can be in breach of your contract, so you can't run two or three or these contracts side by side just in case.

  • Sounds like most employment here in the US, no guaranteed hours but if you cant work your shift..... Jul 2, 2015 at 18:29
  • @WindRaven how so? I've never heard of this. If you're talking that your schedule comes out and you're shorted hours that's hardly the same thing.
    – zfrisch
    Jul 2, 2015 at 21:29
  • @zfrisch Some of the stores I worked at (early in my life) would post the schedule and it was never the same week to week. Shorted hours and some morning shifts some evening shifts. Where no one could grab a second job and have a reasonable expectation of being able to work both. Jul 2, 2015 at 23:18
  • 6
    According to gov.uk/contract-types-and-employer-responsibilities/… you don't have to be available to work. Zero hours goes both ways.
    – gnasher729
    Jul 3, 2015 at 17:39
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    -1. This answer is outright wrong regarding "zero benefits" for the employee. The employee, by law, has EVERY right to refuse work in a zero-hour contract, so you CAN sign on to as many as you want. You are legally given authority to simply ignore those work banning clauses even if you sign it.
    – Nelson
    Jun 17, 2016 at 1:48

Essentially it's a casual arrangement - you contract to be available within certain parameters, but the employer only calls you in when there is actual work to be done. There is no guarantee of any specific number of hours (and therefore no guarantee of pay).

  • 2
    well no, not really. As Moo says the convenience is totally on the employer side, as someone on a zero hours contract you can't hedge and have 2 or more and pick who gives you the best that week. If you refuse you'll be in breach of contract, if it was casual you could say yes/no as suits. Jul 2, 2015 at 20:57
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    @TheWanderingDevManager: The only thing the definition of a zero-hour contract specifies is that there are zero hours of guaranteed work. Nothing says such a contract can't have other terms, such as required notice or no-penalty refusal. Signing a contract that effectively forces exclusive employment with no guaranteed compensation is a very foolish move, and the people doing it are encouraging employers to continue the practice.
    – Blrfl
    Jul 3, 2015 at 15:25
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    @TheWanderingDevManager: In the UK, by law an employee on a zero hour contract can ignore any contract terms that would force them to be available for work, or would stop them from looking for and/or accepting work elsewhere.
    – gnasher729
    Jun 16, 2016 at 14:01

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