Business secretary Vince Cable’s announcement last week that he has ordered a review into controversial ‘zero hours’ contracts has been welcomed by the Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo).

Mr Cable cited anecdotal evidence that some companies were unscrupulously exploiting vulnerable workers at the margins of the labour market with these contracts, which allow employers to pay for work only when they have demand – if workers are not given hours, they receive no pay. The number of zero hours contracting arrangements has risen by 150% since 2005, according to the British Labour Force Survey, and by 25% in 2012 alone. Research by the Financial Times found that the number of such contracts had leapt by 24% in the NHS over the last two years, with the arrangements spreading to include consultants as well as relatively unskilled workers.

APSCo’s head of external relations, Samantha Hurley, welcomed Mr Cable’s decision to look into these contracts and acknowledged that they are rising in numbers; however, she also added a note of caution, saying: “An increase in flexible working per se should not be seen in a negative light, but it’s crucial that we find a balance between the need for flexibility and fairness for vulnerable workers. APSCo particularly welcomes the government’s ambition to better understand the nature of demand in the flexible labour market. We have long called for more work in this area and we expect the output will be a valuable asset for policy making on employment.”

Many skilled Umbrella Company Employees, who are used to a well-remunerated flexible working model, would agree.

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