I’m Peter Webster, chief executive of Corps Security, and this is where I examine the issues affecting the security industry. My thoughts and opinions are intended to generate debate and whether you agree or disagree with them, you’re welcome to post your comments below.
The recent media furore concerning zero hours contracts has been fascinating both in terms of the diverse opinion that it has generated and the level of misinformation surrounding this issue. It’s been particularly interesting to witness so much vitriol being directed at a scheme that, in the right hands, is highly beneficial for employer and employee alike.
Exactly how many people are on zero hours contracts is a subject of some conjecture. Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggest that 250,000 UK workers – around one per cent of the workforce – are employed on these terms. However, a recent survey of employers by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) estimates that the real number is more than one million, with one in five employers having at least one employee on a zero hours contract. This is quite a discrepancy, which doesn’t help when assessing its impact.
Put simply, zero hours contracts allow employers to hire staff with no guarantee of work. Employees work as and when they are needed and only get paid for the hours they complete. A number of politicians have voiced their concerns about the growing use of these contracts and Vince Cable, the business secretary, recently stated, ‘There has been anecdotal evidence of abuse by certain employers – including in the public sector – of some vulnerable workers at the margins of the labour market.’
It has been alleged that some employers are using zero hours contracts to create an intolerable situation for their employees. Reports of people being put ‘on call’ 24/7, with the threat that their contract will be terminated if they don’t turn up at short notice, are widespread.
While I am against this system being abused and wholeheartedly condemn the exploitation of those who can least afford to lose their jobs, I fervently believe that zero hours contracts, when used correctly, are good for both company and employee. My positive stance on this issue is based on my own experience at Corps Security, where we have successfully used zero hours contracts since 2011.
The vast majority of our contracted officers and all of our temporary employees have no or limited guaranteed hours in their contracts, primarily due to the fact that they are required to attend more than one site, and with shift cycles there is rarely a set weekly or monthly working pattern. However, such is the demand for the services of our personnel that in practice the majority are given at least 40 hours of work each week. Furthermore, we put no barrier in the way of any officers who wish to supplement their income by working elsewhere, provided it does not constitute a conflict of interests.
We are certainly not alone and it is very common in the manned guarding sector to use these terms. Flexibility is the key for us and I’m proud that we are able to offer employment to a diverse group of people who otherwise could find it difficult to earn money. For example, we employ numerous retired people who welcome the chance to do ad-hoc work to supplement their pensions, and enjoy being part of an organisation that places value their knowledge and skills. We also take on younger people with families who are able to work around their domestic commitments. We offer shifts to colleagues who are under no obligation to accept them and it does not harm their future prospects if they do refuse them.
In a growing number of cases, the traditional 9am-5pm working day is no longer suited to modern lifestyles and flexible contracts accommodate this trend. We appreciate that flexible contracts have to be flexible for both us and our colleagues. It is also worth noting that our zero hours contract colleagues have the same employment benefits as the majority of our other hourly paid colleagues and no-one is disadvantaged because of their employment contract flexibility. Also, because they do not have to commit to providing a specific number of hours employers are more willing to offer these types of opportunities.
In the case of Corps Security, part of our corporate ethos involves providing our clients with officers who are equipped to carry out their roles to the highest standards. Our award winning training and skills development programmes are a cost that we bear for all our employees – including those on zero hours contracts – a commitment that I believe represents the true meaning of investing in people. Having made this investment, it is logical for us to utilise these skills as often as we can by offering plenty of work for our flexible workforce.
I sincerely hope that the government takes the time to understand the positive aspects of zero hours contracts and avoids making the kind of kneejerk reaction, like it has done with TUPE, which could harm the people it is trying to protect. While any instances of abuse that contravene employment law should obviously be tackled, more should be done to encourage the correct use of zero hours contracts and accentuate the positives of this type of employment.