Gibbons: ‘zero hours’ contracts have little in common with big firms’ ‘disreputable’ behaviour

Shetland Arts this week offered reassur­ances that staff employed on “zero hours” contracts are not sub­jected to the “appalling” sort of conditions faced by employees at some big UK companies.

The organisation is advertising for events assistants to work at Mareel, and has frequently used the term “zero hours” in its recruitment literature and adverts.

Many national media reports this week have focused on allegations that multinational firms including McDonald’s, Amazon and Sports Direct are exploiting the contracts at workers’ expense.

In light of the “disreputable be­haviour of some employers”, Shet­land Arts director Gwilym Gibbons told this newspaper that “for reasons of clarity” he would be re-examining the use of the term.

The main criticism of the con­tracts nationally – trade unions are calling for them to be outlawed – is that they offer no guarantee of reg­ular work and an unstable income.

But Mr Gibbons pointed out that there were some key differences in the way the contracts are used by Shetland Arts.
“It is in contrast with some appal­ling behaviour that is hap­pening at a UK level,” he said, adding he hoped the issue could be addressed by simply “placing a state­ment in our recruitment sec­tion”.

Crucially, he said staff on zero hours deals were allowed to have other jobs, to turn down shifts that didn’t suit them and to receive all employment rights such as holiday and sick pay.

“It’s about being a flexible employer,” Mr Gibbons said.

Brian Smith, the isles’ main Unison representative, said earlier this week that if Shetland Arts was employing zero hours workers it needed to “stop it right away” because it was a “disgusting way to treat employees”.

After hearing Mr Gibbons’ justi­fication, he said: “If that is the case, they need to think about a different terminology, and spell out exactly what they have in mind in advertisements.”

Shetland Arts decided to employ a mixture of zero hours staff, full-time workers and volunteers when Mareel first opened last year, Mr Gibbons explained. Most of the staff are working “fairly regular hours”.

“Within the first three months [after the building opened], we were starting to convert zero hours into part-time and full-time, and we’re continuing to do that as we get the balance of staffing needs right.

“I think we’ll always have some ‘zero hours’ staff. Demand fluctuates significantly depending on large-scale events. Some people don’t want to have to work – we offer them hours and they choose [whether] to take them. A lot of our students work at the cafe-bar and help out at events.”

Shetland Arts chairman Danus Skene echoed Mr Gibbons’ re­marks. He has not detected any particular dissatisfaction among workers, but will “keep my ears pricked” to ensure there weren’t any problems.

“The classic argument against zero hours is you tie somebody up, give them no assurances of work, [and] people don’t know where they stand,” Mr Skene said.

“They think they’re getting em­ployment but get shoved to the back of the queue. That isn’t the experi­ence where you have got young people who are students looking for part-time employ­ment.”

This newspaper also approached the isles’ other big trusts and public sector bodies.

The SIC said it had no employees on zero hours contracts. The local authority does sometimes use pools of casual staff, for example supply teachers, who don’t have any set hours.

Such individuals are not defined as “zero hours” workers, though one council source said the supply teaching arrangement was “virt­ually identical” to the em­ployee/employer relationship for Shetland Arts’ casual staff.

NHS Shetland chairman Ian Kinniburgh said it had no zero hours workers. It operates “bank contracts for staff who want to work flexibly”, but again there was “no commitment either way”.

Shetland Amenity Trust “tech­nically” has no zero hours contracts either. A spokeswoman for the trust said it did employ some staff “on a casual basis at peak season times”. Such staff would have similar hours from week to week, with the occa­sional offer of extra work for specific events.

Shetland Recreational Trust man­­ager James Johnston said: “I can confirm that SRT do not em­ploy any staff on zero hours contracts.”

UK business secretary Vince Cable is under growing pressure to ensure that a review of the contro­versial terms and conditions sur­round­ing zero hours copntracts is far-reaching and results in greater protection for workers.

Northern Isles MP Alistair Car­michael said the flexibility offered by zero hours contracts “comes with it a responsibility not to abuse it” for employers.


Add Your Comment
  • Ali Inkster

    • August 10th, 2013 13:08

    These contracts have more to do with the precarious financial position S.A. still finds itself. Zero hours contracts will allow them to lay off staff at no cost. Now let’s extend these contracts to gibbons and the rest at the top of the pile.

  • bain elisabeth

    • August 10th, 2013 14:01

    Wondered how long before some shetland firms would get on the “zero hours” bandwagon. Just goes to show how tight they are eh!

  • John Anderson

    • August 10th, 2013 18:33

    I’m not clear why ‘zero hours’ is bad in itself, I’d have thought it’s just like casual or relief work – there are benefits to the employee as they are not obliged to work. It can be a happy arrangement for folk with other work or commitments that try to get a few hours when it fits.

    I can well imagine some employers will mis-use these contracts but I don’t think that is the case with Shetland Arts. They obviously need wildly varied staffing for the range of things they do. If they had called it ‘casual’ work would there have been the fuss and kneejerk reaction by the union? I note that SA’s zero hours workers get sick pay, which is interesting – I think that makes them better off than casual workers.

  • Jim Leask

    • August 10th, 2013 21:23

    Is it not just basically the same type of contract lots of other employers in Shetland use but call there contratcs/staff Bank staff, Relief staff, Casual Staff etc. SIC, SRT, NHS etc. I have had a few different contracts like this and have found them to be mutually beneficial (as long as you know what you are signing up for). Its a bad choice of name for the contract nothing more. The way Mareel works, with events being on a different times, frequencies, different amounts of staff needed for different events etc – surely means that flexibility of staff contracts hours are needed? Shetland Arts maybe haven’t handled the whole Mareel affair too well but its here now so lets support the place and stop the Mareel bashing over whats essentially a non story! Local Employer gives large number of young people, students and other locals a chance to work – many of those on flexible contracts – big deal ehh!

  • fraser cluness

    • August 11th, 2013 9:53

    I’m on the Zero hours contract, I work in the Garrison and i would never link the treatment of south firms with SA or the Islesburgh Trust before that. The point of them is exactly casual work, you can take it or leave it, I have never felt in anyway presured to work, quite the opposit, I move things in my personal life to work there. Its the passion of working in the Theatre.

    You need casual staff in business” of all kinds to cover illness, holiday cover and major events. I do agree with the south reports that they shouldnt be used for the day to day running of any business as core staff when you need that staff everyday.

  • David Spence

    • August 11th, 2013 10:42

    But Jim, it may be the case that some employer’s use this ‘ zero hours ‘ contract but are not named as such.

    I think the point of criticism for this type of work is, like the so-called ‘ Temporary Contracts ‘ the vile Tories introduced in the late eighties gave employer’s huge benefits in terms of financial savings. If I am correct, if you were taken on with a Temporary Contract (despite the fact you were working full time hours) it would mean to you as an employee that a) you were not entitled to medical pay, b) you were not entitled to holiday pay. c) you were not entitled to a pension contribution scheme (if the company had one) d) you could be dismissed with very little notice. e) your contract could be changed without your notice or agreement.

    Zero hours contract is purely there to benefit the employer and give considerably less rights and say to the employee. It is, in affect, greater exploitation of your work force but costing less to the employer in terms of an employee’s rights to this of an employer’s rights.

    I would not be surprised if this vile Tory Government expands such a system into making it Law within the work force as well as making it Law within Local Authority Structures as well, even although this may already be in use with the SIC????

  • Derick Tulloch

    • August 11th, 2013 20:30

    Casual labour is fine for a short term, temporary situation.

    When Zero Hours are used for ongoing work, that could easily be filled by a permanent employee, or even an employee on a temp, but proper, contract – then this is exploitation pure and simple.

    How many managers are on Zero Hours?

  • John Tulloch

    • August 12th, 2013 11:57

    It’s important to guard against moves to oppress workers as in the past, pockets of which are still to be found today however Fraser Cluness thinks “zero hours” works very well for him and given Shetland Arts’ weak financial state, if the law said he must be a permanent employee with “all the trimmings”, his job which he likes so much would, quite possibly, not exist.

  • S V Jolly

    • August 13th, 2013 15:17

    @ David Spence
    I’m not sure of the Scottish law on this but given that EU Directives were adopted in English law then I figure that Scottish law is the same.

    I spent years temping in London for various agencies, and many of my assignments were with local authorities for months at a time. When the law came in, I got holiday pay from all the agencies I temped with. Reed Employment, however, had given holiday pay well before that time. The EU Directive stated something along the lines that temporary staff had to be treated on par with permanent staff.

    I could do flexible hours in line with the local authorities’ permanent staff. I got holiday pay. I got paid for bank holidays. The only difference was that I didn’t get sick pay.

    I don’t have a problem with Mareel offering zero hour contracts.

    But isn’t it the case that even on permanent contracts, that Employment Tribunals have ruled that an employer does not have to guarantee a set number of hours – many firms have cut back on staff hours due to the recession and the like, and Employment Tribunals have ruled this as reasonable?

  • fraser cluness

    • August 13th, 2013 17:33

    I said i work in the Garrison, this is for only 1 – a couple of nights a month, (if there is something on) so the zero hours contract works there for me- I am only employed to work there, ie not in other SA buildings. I made no comment on SA. I think i don’t get sick pay, as i dont work enough hours, but i do get holiday hours. For casual work like this (now and again jobs) the contracts works fine.

    It’s a diffrent thing if your working for firms that have you working lots of hours where you realy could have a propper job – even if it was a short term contract.

    I have also worked as a youthworker in the past on the same kind of contracts, its casual work, its fine for now and again hours. lots of jobs out there in shops and offices etc use the ‘bank’ ‘casual staff’ ‘zero contracts’. they do seem to be on the take it or leave it rules though.

  • Bill Smale

    • August 16th, 2014 19:24

    Here we are one year on and Shetland Arts are still advertising posts as “(zero hours)”. Has Mr.Gibbons “re-examined” the use of the term?


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