McDonald’s to allow employees to opt out of zero-hours contracts

Fast food retailer acts after staff request guaranteed work because of personal difficulties caused by employment status

McDonald’s staff in nine restaurants have been given the chance to move from controversial ‘hourly paid contracts’ onto fixed-hours contracts, after employees reported difficulties when applying for mortgages and loans.

The chain, which employs 87,000 staff on what it describes as hourly paid contracts – widely referred to as zero-hours contracts – said a “small but growing” number of staff had requested the move, which will be rolled out across the UK.

The trial started in three restaurants in the north west in January and will now be adopted in six other branches. Under the initiative, staff can choose to switch to a four-hour, 16-hour or 30-hour contract.

A spokesperson for McDonald’s said the scheme would run in these six branches over the summer and if successful, could be rolled out across the UK within a year.

According to the Office for National Statistics, the number of people on zero-hours contracts surpassed 800,000 for the first time in the last three months of 2015, despite the negative publicity they have attracted.

McDonald’s has faced particular criticism for employing people on contracts with no guarantee of regular work, as has high street retailer Sports Direct. Protesters from the Fast Food Rights and Better than Zero campaigns recently demonstrated outside a McDonald’s in Glasgow against the use of zero hours.

The Financial Conduct Authority warned this month that the irregularity of zero-hours contracts makes it harder for workers to plan and save.

The McDonald’s spokesperson said 80 per cent of staff in the initial three restaurants trialled had opted to stay on hourly paid contracts.

“We don’t recognise zero-hours contracts and the negativity around exclusivity clauses, including no sick pay and holiday pay. We have had the same contracts in place for more than 41 years in the UK; they are flexible contracts that afford all hourly paid people the same benefits and the same opportunities for training and development as our contracted, fixed-hours staff.

“We know that lots of people work for us because of our flexibility, such as being able to not work in school holidays or being able to work additional hours in the holidays. People know that whatever hours they request they will have, and if they want to increase or reduce that they can do so with great flexibility.”

Dr Alex Wood, an employment and labour market researcher at the University of Oxford, said the focus on contracts being ‘zero hours’ was not the real issue: “The issue is about flexibility and who has control of that flexibility. If you as a worker or employee have flexibility over your schedule that is a good thing for work-life balance, but usually with lower-end workers what happens is that the managers have all the control over that flexibility so you have a lot of insecurity.”

McDonald’s said staff were consulted about their rota on a fortnightly basis and were also able to swap shifts with family and friends without asking managers. Dr Wood said this sounded good in practice but he would like to see employees on casual contracts being given better mechanisms for making their voices heard.

“If you are contracted for zero hours and you are reliant on overtime to survive then if you say ‘I won’t do those extra hours’, workers fear they will not get any more hours in the future. If you have workers who do not have much bargaining power because they do not have very in-demand skills, and they don’t have collective power through a union, they are going to feel vulnerable in any discussion with a manager,” Dr Wood added.

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