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Article United Kingdom: Government Supports Bill Providing Predictable Working Hours

On February 3, 2023, the government of the United Kingdom announced its support of the Workers (Predictable Terms and Conditions) Bill. The bill is a private member’s bill, meaning a member of Parliament who is not a government minister introduced the bill. These bills often serve to highlight an issue but are typically not enacted into law. In this case, government support of the bill increases its likelihood of it being enacted.

If enacted, the b­ill would apply to all workers in Great Britain (England, Wales, and Scotland), including agency workers and those on zero-hours contracts. The bill would amend the Employment Rights Act 1996 and provide workers whose existing schedule lacks certainty for the number of hours they work or the times they work with the statutory right to submit a formal application twice a year to their employer to request a predictable schedule.

This right would be available for all workers after they have worked for an employer for a certain period of time, which is anticipated will be 26 weeks. Due to the nature of unpredictable work, there would be no requirement for the worker to have worked continuously for those 26 weeks.

The bill would provide employers with six specific grounds on which they would be able to reject a request for a predictable working pattern:

(i) the burden of additional costs,
(ii) detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand,
(iii) detrimental impact on the recruitment of staff,
(iv) detrimental impact on other aspects of the employer’s business,
(v) insufficiency of work during the periods the worker proposes to work, [and]
(vi) planned structural  changes. …

The secretary of state would be able to specify additional grounds by introducing regulations. Once the worker submits the application, the employer has a one-month period to make their decision. Applications would be considered withdrawn if the worker fails to attend two meetings arranged by the employer to discuss the application.

In cases where the employer would grant the application, a new contract must be made with terms and conditions that, taken as a whole, cannot be less favorable than the contract in existence at the time the application was made and reflect the change in pattern the worker requested.

In the press release announcing its support, the government noted that a significant number of workers with zero-hours contracts faced “one-sided flexibility” that required them to wait until the last minute to see if they would get a work shift. This has led to insecurity of hours and income for many workers. The labour markets minister stated that “[e]mployers having one-sided flexibility over their staff is unfair and unreasonable. This Bill will ensure workers can request more predictable working patterns where they want them, so they can get on with their daily lives.”

This is not the first time that the government has considered the issue of flexibility in the workforce. In 2017 the government-commissioned Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices, which examined flexibility in the workplace, was published. The report determined that workplace flexibility was “a complex issue with potential adverse consequences to most interventions,” noting that the “[g]overnment must take steps to ensure that flexibility does not benefit the employer, at the unreasonable expense of the worker, and that flexibility is genuinely a mutually beneficial arrangement.” The review recommended that the minimum wage for zero- or short-hours contract workers should be increased to incentivize the use of guaranteed hours, but this recommendation was never incorporated into law.

Clare Feikert-Ahalt, Law Library of Congress
March 3, 2023

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