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Employment solicitor, Frances Nash, explains Zero-Hour Contracts, Tribunal Fees and Settlement Agreements.

Things are moving fast in the world of employment law, fast but perhaps not forwards. In the UK, small and medium sized businesses employ over 90% of workers in the private sector. It is not hard to understand why the majority of recent changes in employment law appear to be aimed at appeasing employers.

Settlement Agreements replace Compromise Agreements and aim to give the employer and opportunity to negotiate with an employee the termination of their employment without running the risk of unfair dismissal proceedings. Unfortunately there are many loopholes to this which mean those assurances are less weighty than envisaged. The same is true of Employee Shareholders whereby, in return for shares in the Company, the employee signs away certain employment rights. Nice idea in theory but not so good when considered in detail.

Until recently most of us had not heard of the term a zero hour contract’s and even less properly understand what it actually means in terms of rights of the worker. There are those that say zero hour contracts offer flexibility for both parties and that, without them, unemployment would be higher. For some, this type of arrangement can work but in the majority of cases many workers are simply being exploited.

The introduction of Tribunal Fees last summer appears to have had a significant impact on the number of claims being submitted. Some analysts have suggested a reduction in claims submitted of almost 55%.

The Ministry of Justice argue that the introduction of fees will help to save millions of pounds each year. In response, Unison launched a judicial review challenging the legality of the changes and we await the judgment of the High Court which is due shortly. It is probably still too early to judge what real impact the introduction of fees will have on the number of claims brought and, in turn, the effect on employee/employer working practices.

I would venture that those claimants who are considered vexatious will be no less determined to bring claims but those with genuine issues who seek and are entitled to recompense will be denied that right. Whatever the outcome, the current climate is not one which favours the underdog.

Employment partner Mark Higgins recently commented on an article related to ‘the fundamentals of zero-hour contracts’ in HR Aspect Magazine