The CIPD have recently issued a research report on zero-hours and short-hours contracts. It makes interesting reading. It should certainly be studied by all those people criticising these flexible working arrangements and calling for more legislation or even an outright ban.

The government’s Labour Force Survey shows that the number of people on zero-hours contracts has almost tripled in less than three years. Although some of this may just be greater public awareness of these arrangements it does look like they are growing in popularity. And that is not just popularity with employers. Employees like them as well.

People who want to fit work around the rest of their lives appreciate the flexibility of these arrangements. Not surprisingly, they are more positive than other employees about their work-life balance. But they are also slightly more satisfied with their jobs and feel less pressured than employees on the whole. So, far from being exploited, they are happy with the arrangements.

The most common reason for using zero-hours contracts is ‘to manage fluctuations in demand’ (mentioned by 66% of employers). But this is closely followed by ‘provide flexibility for the individual’ (51%). This shows that these contracts are a way of delivering flexibility for the individual not just the organisation. And it’s not all about saving money. Reducing costs is a specific objective for just 21% of employers.

The CIPD concludes: “An outright ban on zero-hours contracts could do more harm than good… Employers with little concern for their employees’ well-being could simply change contracts to guarantee a very small minimum number of hours or replace zero- hours contracts with casual labour. The best way to improve the working lives of the zero-hours contract workforce is to help employers understand why they need to develop flexible and fair working practices and how to implement them.”

It seems that we have found a working relationship that works well for employers AND employees. It may be open to abuse, but let’s not deny the majority the benefit of a flexible working relationship they enjoy, in order to curb the few cases of exploitation.