A new consensus appears to be emerging about the future of ‘zero-hours’ contracts as the government’s consultation closes: there will be no wholesale abolition, but exclusivity causes could be banned.

The contracts came under scrutiny last year after it emerged that large numbers of low-skilled workers were being placed on them by a range of employers; however, they are also used by highly-skilled freelancers, such as Umbrella Company Employees and others in the professional contacting community, as a means of providing maximum flexibility to clients.

The clauses prevent workers from working elsewhere irrespective of how few hours there are given by their primary employer. Business secretary Vince Cabal targeted them from the outset of the consultation, which began in December. He said: “We don’t think that people should be tied exclusively to one employer if it unfairly stops them from boosting their income when they are not getting enough work to earn a living.”

The CEO of recruitment and outsourcing firm Staffline Group, Andy Hogarth, sounded his agreement, saying that employers should not be allowed exclusivity unless they are offering their workers 37.5 hours a week.

Support for the abolition of exclusivity clauses also came from the CIPD and the Work Foundation. Both support the retention of the contracts to facilitate flexible working for the benefit of employees and employers, but agree that exclusivity practices should be banned.

A note of scepticism, however, was sounded by the REC’s head of policy, Karen Shoesmith, who claimed that the prevalence of exclusivity clauses may well have been exaggerated. She said: “We couldn’t find any instances.”

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