J.D. Wetherspoon has become the latest big name on the high street to offer its staff on zero-hours contracts the chance to work more stable guaranteed hours.
The decision will affect 24,000 staff who work for the pub chain and follows in the footsteps of Sports Direct and McDonald's, both of which have told staff they can have fixed hours if they want.
Tim Martin, Wetherspoon founder and chairman, said a trial was launched earlier this year and proved so popular that it will be rolled out across the country.
He told BuzzFeed News: “We decided to do a trial, which started six months ago in certain areas of the company. It was big enough to get a good idea of what the take-up has been.”
The outspoken boss added that around two-thirds of staff on zero-hours contracts opted to move on to the fixed-hour deal instead.
The number of guaranteed hours is around 70% of the typical number of hours they work each week, meaning members of staff know what minimum amount of cash they will take home each month.
“It’s not something that was ever, ever brought up in my conversations over the years," Martin said.
“It used to be called ‘hourly pay’ and we’ve probably all done hourly pay – that was just the way things were.
“Then someone came up with the term 'zero-hours' on it and everyone realised ‘oh yeah, there is no guaranteed hours’.
“We’ve already offered guaranteed-hour contracts to a percentage of our workforce and they’ll all be offered one in the next three months.
“In spite of me saying there’s no advantage with them, we’ve had quite a good take-up of 70% to 80%.”
The take-up at Wetherspoon for fixed-hour contracts has been far higher than among employees at fast-food chain McDonald's, where a trial in the north of England saw around 1 in 4 workers opting for the change.
However, McDonald's – which uses zero-hours contracts for most of its staff – still decided in recent months to continue expanding the trial to give workers the choice.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady welcomed Wetherspoon's changes. She said: “Guaranteeing staff minimum hours is much better than leaving them unsure about how much work they will have from one day to the next.
“We hope that other employers follow suit. The success of the Wetherspoons trial proves that businesses can be successful without zero-hours contracts.”
Sports Direct, which also uses zero-hours contracts for the vast majority of its workers, only revealed last week that it would offer its staff fixed-hour contracts guaranteeing at least 12 hours a week – so it is not known yet how many will sign up.
Despite the shift away from using zero-hours contracts by these companies – which have all faced heavy criticism for using the employment practice – the Office for National Statistics revealed last week that the number of workers in the UK on the contracts had soared 20% in the last year to nearly 1 million people.
The ONS said it believed part of the reason for the rise was that more employees had heard of zero-hours contracts.
But critics said employers were using the contracts to hire workers “on the cheap” because their hours could be cut without warning.
Companies that use them claim employees enjoy the flexibility that comes with the contract. They say students are happy to use them to work around their studies, and that some parents enjoy them because they can work around childcare commitments.
Simon Neville is business editor at BuzzFeed UK and is based in London.
Contact Simon Neville at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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