The Association of Colleges (AoC) is on the hunt for “good” examples of zero-hour contracts amid an investigation into the controversial agreements by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).

The contracts have been criticised as leaving staff without guaranteed hours, sick or holiday pay, and for making it difficult to get tenancy agreements, credit cards or loans because it is impossible to show a regular income.

The University and College Union (UCU) is campaigning against their use and is expected to release its FoI findings soon on how widespread they are among colleges.

The contracts have also come under fire from Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who said this week: “Families have to plan to pay bills – everyone has to plan for what their income is and what they are going to pay out. That can cause very intense insecurity and anxiety indeed.”

Nevertheless, the AoC is looking for positive examples of zero-hour contracts in use by colleges following talks with BIS officials about the investigation.

Emma Mason, AoC director of employment policy and services, told members in an email yesterday: “AoC met with BIS officials earlier this week to discuss the review of the use of zero hours contracts.

“It is apparent that evidence of good practice will be extremely helpful in illustrating how these employment contracts benefit both the employer and the worker.”

The AoC has also been drawing up legal advice to help colleges respond to the UCU’s FoI request for details of their use of zero-hour contracts.

Marc Whitworth, AoC employment services manager, said: “There are parts of the FE sector that use zero-hour contracts and we have an interest in understanding where this might work for employers and staff.

“We have discussions with BIS as part of our representative role on a variety of issues.

“Our role is to offer advice and guidance to support colleges in ensuring their employment practices, terms and conditions are fair and lawful.

“Colleges will make local decisions on how best to resource services and meet the needs of students to ensure effective delivery of learning to students effectively.”

The Office for National Statistics said around 200,000 staff across the UK economy could be working on zero-hour contracts, but some experts think the actual number is far higher.

But the UCU is campaigning against their use, saying they denied staff the financial security or stability to operate on a month-to-month basis, and denied students continuity with their teachers.

The contracts, it is claimed, leave workers vulnerable to sudden reductions in shift patterns and last-minute shift cancellations at the discretion of managers.

However, the UCU is currently collating its own data on the prevalence of zero-hour contracts in colleges and universities and hopes to release the findings this month.

Simon Renton, UCU president, said: “Zero-hour contracts remain the unacceptable underbelly of further and higher education.

“Only the catering sector employs more people on casual contracts than our colleges and universities, and staff and students suffer from their widespread use.

“Staff are denied full employee status and key employment rights. Without a guaranteed income they are unable to make financial or employment plans on a year to year, or even month to month basis.

“Students miss out on a lack of continuity and, often, receive reduced access to staff employed on minimal hours. There are other ways to deliver the flexibility that employers claim they need while providing a level of financial security for staff and continuity for students.”

Your thoughts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. It’s not just in FE, my son’s girlfriend works in child are and has been on a 0 hour contract since she completed her level 2 framework. She gets the worst shifts and does get cancelled or sent home when it’s slack at work. I’ve also seen 0 hour contracts used in conjunction with part time assessor a in college, a way to boost income for the individual but actually an ineffecient use of money.

  2. I have not seen an example of good zero hour contracts. From a management perspective, it makes poor sense. Good staff are woth investing in and putting them on zero hour contracts does not engender loyalty or that ‘extra effort’ FE is famous for. Staff are stressed, teaching and learning is not as well planned and the continuity required to deliver outstamding learning is missing. If staff are employable, we need to invest in their future, for our future. Zero hour staff do not get invited to CPD, training and meetings in many places. They appear disposable as paper cups, not valued team members. Zero hour contracts are handcuffs of the worst kind; typing somone to a provider with no benefit for the, the learner, the college or society. They look attractive from a very narrow, short term financial perspective, but long term they cost too much.

  3. ‘Emma Mason, AoC director of employment policy: “… evidence of good practice will be extremely helpful in illustrating how these employment contracts benefit both the employer and the worker.”’

    Orwellian comes to mind, and perhaps Roger Ward. Who recalls the benefits to ‘the employer and the worker’ of ELS? Shame on the AoC.

  4. FE Funding Guru

    Using Zero Hours contracts enables companies to retain a pool of workers to fill temporary positions, which could be beneficial in some areas of FE. For example, FE College employer enagagement units already employ staff on short term contracts or pay-by-result contracts.

    It may enable organisations to become more reactive to changes, but I agree with Jayne in that it doesn’t promote staff loyalty & the lack of continuity may ultimately affect the quality of provision.

    It’s worth remembering that there are still legal obligations on behalf of employers who recruit on Zero Hour contracts.

    • Legal obligations to staff recruited on such contracts, as FE Funding Guru knows, are perfunctory, although I imagine there would be some complex debate when it came to calculating redundancy payment. These contracts are different from fixed term temporary contracts, or from people coming into college to give specific and specialist input. FE has always enjoyed that kind of flexibility. Although some (like Julie F. below) are perfectly happy with such contracts, the discussion should be an honest one. As the Guardian notes in its editorial today (9.8.13), defenders of zero-hour contracts draw attention to the range of work contexts in which they might apply, including well-remunerated ones. Yet, for the most part, these contracts ‘are merely the most striking example of the casualisation of labour…one geared up to providing low-paid, precarious work’.,

      This is all part of the slippery-slope. An interest in employment segued into a stress on so-called ’employability’. No doubt managing uncertainty of income is an employability skill much prized by the precariat.

      • My comment is not so much about the positives or negatives of the zero hour contract. Clearly, there are ups and downs for the worker or employee, it actually suits some. It is more about the employer, no doubt about that. The crucial point for the worker or employee is that he or she actually understands the contract, shortfalls or benefits. Not all zero hour contracts are as bad as they are made out in the press. The ‘small print’ and reading the terms and conditions is something which can make or break – in fact – it can cost you a personal fortune, employment rights and/or career. I like the relatively new outfit Check-A-Contract – well, they do what it says on the tin. In big writing. Checking contracts – and ‘small print’ for that matter. For a very small fee they highlight the small print, advise on changes, deletions or additions – including your options. Turnaround for contracts is less than 48 hrs and all contracts are worked on by qualified top UK solicitors. Worth knowing, especially if you have to look out for small print in employment contracts, signing rental agreements and so on. If it helps, website is here:

  5. I can’t think of anything positive about zero hours contracts – not if you want motivated staff who feel valued. Managers just use them because they can’t plan effectively or can’t be bothered to! The campaigning group 38Degrees are taking up the fight on these insidious zero hours contracts against Sports Direct who may have up to 90% of staff on them … link here if anyone’s interested:

  6. Erm …. I have a zero hours contract from the Association of Colleges, Eastern Region!! I have no problems at all with my contract, and have to say that I find ACER (AoC’s Eastern Region) to be an excellent employer. I do, though, find this discussion thread somewhat ironic!