Zero hours contracts are painted as the enemy, but the new ruling fits in with how hospitality workers live their lives, says Peter Hancock
What a hot potato zero hours contracts have become. Hated by the Unite union, partially defended by the business secretary and relied upon by large swathes of the catering and retail sectors, the term has become a byword for the exploitation of some 1.4 million workers in this country by greedy employers.
In some cases, this may be a fair description. But surely any fool can see that we must have the flexibility to bring in extra help when busy, and that it is simply not viable to keep all those extra staff on the payroll as a permanent fixture?
When I managed hotels, we referred to these incredibly useful people as ‘casuals'. When we needed help with a wedding or some other large function, we would phone round a list of experienced casuals and see who was available. Their hourly rate was a little higher than full-timers, but we guaranteed them nothing, acknowledging the fact that they would probably work for other businesses when needed.
In my nocturnal life as an occasional after-dinner speaker, I gladly accept exactly the same arrangement. How else could it possibly work? The real professionals are listed with dozens of agencies and clients can have their pick of any, subject to availability and price. You wouldn't expect the Institute of Civil Engineers to guarantee a set number of hours per year to Michael McIntyre or else forego his services altogether. Neither should the Savoy be prevented from hiring in extra hands as and when required. Flexibility is the key to making the best of whatever business opportunities are to be had, without crippling payroll burdens.
Clearly it is better for most employees to have security and certainty, and in an ideal world, that would always be the case. But in reality, where demand is hard to predict, the use of casual labour is often essential.
I predict that the use of zero hours contracts will grow - not just here, but in other countries too - and that those on fixed salaries with fixed hours will diminish in service industries. It could eventually become so normal that mortgage lenders will accept an applicant's fluctuating income. It's what they have done for employers all along.
Peter Hancock is chief executive of Pride of Britain Hotels