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Could casual workers soon have the right to ask for a predictable work contract?

Since the Taylor Report was first released in 2017, the suggestion of more protection for insecure workers has been mooted throughout government.

The push for more protection for such workers appeared to have slowly died a death since 2017 with little interest from government to push through such additional rights, a move that was seen as an additional burden for employers already juggling the fall out of Brexit.

It was with some surprise, therefore, that a bill has been introduced in parliament by Blackpool South MP Scott Benton, looking at resurrecting the protection for workers, especially those on zero hours contracts. Even more surprising, perhaps is that it has now been backed by the government and looks like it may get the green light to be made into law.

What is the bill and what does it do?

The Workers (Predictable Terms and Conditions) Bill has been put forward to in a bid to provide more protection to workers and eradicate what is seen as “one-sided flexibility”. In practice, workers are often placed on standby, waiting for work that does not come and not being able to take up other opportunities in case they are required last minute.

If passed, the bill would amend the Employment Rights Act 1996 to give workers and agency workers the right to request a predictable work pattern in certain circumstances.

How would it work in practice?

If the bill is passed, the aim would be to create more predictable working patterns whereby workers will have a guarantee of when they are required to work.

Whilst the exact details of what the final bill will look like are unknown, it is anticipated that it will reflect the current statutory framework for dealing with flexible working applications, namely;

  • A worker will need 26-weeks service in order to access this right.
  • an application for a request for a predictable work pattern can be made twice in a 12-month period

An application would be able to made where:

  • There is a lack of predictability as regards to any part of their work pattern (fixed term contracts of 12 months or less are presumed to lack predictability)
  • The change relates to their work pattern
  • Their purpose in applying for the change is to get a more predictable work pattern

Once an application has been made, an employer would have a month to respond and reach a decision. An employer can reject the application on similar grounds that apply under the flexible working legislation (i.e. there must be a good business reason for doing so), however employers would need to consider each application carefully as workers would have the option to make a claim in the employment tribunal if they feel that their request was not handled in a ‘reasonable manner’ or believe they have been treated poorly because of their request. It would also be automatically unfair to dismiss an employee for making a request of this nature.

At the moment, the progress of this bill is in its early stages and it could be some time before any legislation is implemented. However, if/when this does happen, businesses who rely on casual workers would need to be thinking about what this might mean for them and how best to manage this change. It is likely that there could be a large administrative burden of dealing with these requests and employers should be prepared for this.

You can keep track of the progress of the bill here: https://bills.parliament.uk/bills/3237 

These notes have been prepared for the purpose of articles only. They should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice.

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