Zero Hours Contracts
In recent times, Zero Hours contracts have become the media's new focus for negative attention in Jersey. With claims that these contracts are simply a way for large firms to exploit the individual by offering them uncertain and completely irregular hours, it's no wonder that the Chief Minister is feeling pressured to investigate the amount of islanders employed on this kind of contract. This ridiculous claim, however, could not be further than the truth.
The current economic climate has left employers feeling insecure as to when their next wave of clients will come, and indeed the volume of clients, however big or small it may be. As a result, it's perfectly understandable why employers are increasingly unwilling to commit to recruiting a large staff base. What's more, employing a large team would mean a massive expenditure in uncertain times. It's for this reason that employers look towards Zero Hours contracts to solve this problem. Imagine, for example, a small family-run restaurant. As most local businesses experience their biggest waves of clients in peaks and troughs during the summer months, where is the common sense in employing a full-time team when they would be entirely redundant in the winter months? This is exactly why we need Zero Hours contracts.
Another myth perpetuated by the Zero Hours opposition is that employers use these contracts as a sly tool to avoid giving employees privileges like holiday leave that they would otherwise enjoy on another contract. This is simply untrue. Employers are contractually obligated to consider this with entitlement equivalent to two weeks per annum, and most factor in 4% pay to cover these holidays.
In addition, we simply must not lose sight of the fact that by its very definition, a Zero Hours contract does not oblige the employer to give an employee many or indeed any hours a week. Then again, even if the employer does, the contract states that the employee is under no obligation to accept should they believe these hours to be 'unreasonable'. Of course, Zero Hours contracts might not seem the most appealing option for those seeking employment, but then again, if an individual chooses to sign the contract, they're doing so in the full knowledge that there may be periods when no work is available, and so are indicating that they are perfectly happy with the terms of employment.
A Zero Hours contract offers the employer a much-needed flexibility, something that the Employment Law in both Jersey and Guernsey unfortunately does not allow.
So why do the Channel Islands refuse to afford such flexibility?
Simply, because in Jersey, after 26 weeks of employment, (12 months in Guernsey), the employee becomes fully protected under the law, which in turn means that dismissal must follow a full and time-costly procedure such as redundancy. Many critics express the idea that fixed term contracts should be preferential, but to state this is to completely ignore the situation in Jersey. Here, once two thirds of that fixed term has passed, the employee receives full legislative protection, this could be 12 weeks into a sixteen week contract for instance. Not only this, but the ending of this kind of contract is seen as a dismissal - at least in Guernsey this is recognised as a legal ending and doesn't require the need for dismissal procedures.
I am confident that for most employers 26 weeks passes incredibly quickly when you're pre-occupied with keeping the business afloat, and Guernsey's 12 months are hardly better. The UK recently amended its legislation on precisely this point, reverting to the pre-1999 position of two years.
So why are we continuing to ignore employers' cries that the red tape is crippling them?
It's no surprise that the Channel Islands is so often mocked for supposedly being eighteen months behind the UK. So rather than wait until the situation becomes so bad that companies fall away, increasing unemployment and adding to the burden on the state, let's act now while the iron is hot.
We must listen to our employers.