Contracts – different types

The first step to challenging casualisation is to know and understand the types of contract used at your institution.

Zero Hour Contract

    • Contracts which make no guarantee of working hours but provide for the employer to offer work ‘as and when’.
    • Hours of work may fluctuate widely.
    • No guaranteed income.
    • Employers may offer a ‘retainer’ during the summer break.
    • Some HPLs may work for many years teaching long-standing, mainstream courses, whilst others may be called on to cover sickness – much like ‘bank staff’ – this distinction may occur in the same institution
    • It might be possible to explore the argument that a zero hour contract can be defined as a fixed term contract

Variable Hour Contract

  • Contracts which guarantee a minimum number of hours’ work with the option of the employer offering additional hours on an ‘as and when’ basis.  This will be an explicit term in the contract.
  • Minimum guaranteed income.
  • A variable hour contract may be defined as a permanent contract, although some reps argue that it could be defined as a fixed term contract.

Fixed Term Contract

  • A contract which ends on a particular date, after a certain event or on completion of a specified task.
  • Failing to renew a fixed-term contract can be considered to be a dismissal.
  • Fixed Term contracts may be defined as either Hourly-Paid or salaried. The salary of HPL fixed term staff is probably significantly lower than their salaried Fixed Term counterparts

Permanent Contract

  • A contract which is of unlimited duration.
  • These contracts may be lawfully terminated in various circumstances, including resignation, retirement, ill-health, gross misconduct and redundancy.

‘Worker’ contracts or self employment

Some institutions, such as Lambeth Adult Community Learning commission self-employed teachers or assessors to either carry out ‘as and when’ work or teach on regular courses. It appears that these groups of workers have the lowest levels of job security and protections.

Some employers claim that their staff are not employees, but actually workers. This might be an attempt to evade their statutory responsibilities such as redundancy pay etc.

Characteristics of ‘Worker’ as opposed to ‘Employee’ contracts:

  • the business doesn’t have to offer them work and they don’t have to accept it – they only work when they want to
  • their contract with the business uses terms like ‘casual’, ‘freelance’, ‘zero hours’, ‘as required’ or something similar
  • the business deducts tax and National Insurance contributions from their wages

Workers usually aren’t entitled to:

  • minimum notice periods if their employment will be ending (eg if an employer is dismissing them)
  • protection against unfair dismissal
  • the right to request flexible working
  • time off for emergencies
  • Statutory Redundancy Pay

Characteristics of ‘Self Employed’ as opposed to ‘Employee’

These workers may:

  • hire someone to do the work or engage helpers at their own expense
  • risk their own money
  • provide the main items of equipment they need to do their job
  • agree to do a job for a fixed price regardless of how long the job may take
  • decide what work to do, how and when to do the work and where to provide the services
  • regularly work for a number of different people
  • account for their own tax

Note that the characteristics identified above are not legal definitions, which are discussed on the next page.

Variations in how HPLs might be paid:

  • In the case of staff whose salary is paid by the hour, salary may be either accounted for and paid as hourly pay (ie staff are only paid during term time) or averaged out over the year, so that HPLs get a monthly salary. Some institutions that pay only in term time may not consider the employee as under contract over the summer. This does not break the continuity of service, and ‘a year’s service’ is still annual, but it does mean that those months are not accounted for in some calculations such as holiday pay.
  • Holiday pay is often either rolled-up into hourly pay (ie staff are only paid during term-time) or averaged out over the year, so that HPLs’ holiday pay is paid out during the holidays. However, following a series of confusing case decisions the Department for BIS now states on its website that rolled up holiday pay is unlawful.
  • Some institutions have agreements whereby HPLs are moved over to variable contracts with better conditions after four years of zero hour contracts.
  • Variable contracts seem to have evolved because of campaigns and branch activity against zero hour contracts.
  • The zero hours contract is viewed by London Region as the most pernicious version of a variable hours contract.


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