Zero Hours Contracts

Created on: 08 Apr 2014 | Last modified: 22 Apr 2020

Key Findings - April 2014

The key findings of the EIS survey include:

• Women were statistically more likely to hold zero hours contracts than men, suggesting that the use of zero hours contracts is potentially discriminatory. Thirteen of the eighteen HEIs had more than 50% of zero hours contract holders recorded as female, and across the whole sector zero hours contract holders were 5% more likely to be female than male.

• Most Universities had not (as of 01 August 2013) carried out Equality Impact Assessments into the use of zero hours contracts.

• Every HEI in Scotland uses some form of zero hours contract – some HEI’s use thousands of zero hours contracts whilst a few make minimal use of zero hours contracts. (University of Edinburgh 3231 to Heriot Watt University 5).

• Different Universities give different rights and benefits to zero hours staff resulting in a range of practices across Scotland. Some Universities define zero hours contract holders as "employees” and clearly seek to give zero hours contract holders the same rights as employees albeit without any security  of hours – which mitigates some of the inequities of zero hours contracts (eg. University of Edinburgh), by giving benefits including occupational sick pay, maternity pay, pension etc.

• Other Universities give the minimal rights under law to their zero hours contract holders and define them as "workers”. These Universities do not pay occupational sick leave nor occupational paternity and maternity benefits. The EIS believes that these Universities are seeking to avoid their responsibilities as employers to these zero hours staff- many of whom may have worked for the University for years. (Examples: Universities of St Andrews, Strathclyde & Stirling).

• All Universities stated that they give payment in lieu of holidays (i.e. rolled up holiday pay) – with a small number also offering paid leave as an option. The EIS believes that this practice may be unlawful as it means that zero hours contract holders do not receive 28 days (pro rata) of paid time off and Employers should only pay staff in lieu of holidays upon termination of their contracts. The EIS also believes that Employers must pay their employees at the time they take their leave. ( It is interesting that the EIS FE Colleges FoI identified that colleges do not generally pay holiday pay in lieu of holidays.

• Most Universities give zero hours contract staff the same holiday entitlement (albeit as payment in lieu) as permanent employees – the highest being 21.5%. Some Universities give zero hours contract holders the statutory minimum – 8.3% (i.e. the minimum stated by the Working Time Regulations). This means that some zero hours staff are receiving between 8.3% and 21.5% holiday pay – depending on which University they work at.

• No University generally uses "exclusivity clauses” within their zero hours contracts – which is a nugget of good news from the EIS FoI request.

• No University has a zero hours contract complaint/appeal process and all seem to rely on grievance procedures.

• Most Universities apply their disciplinary policies to cover periods between work as well as during work. This could lead to a zero hours contract holder being disciplined in September for breaching a University policy despite not working since the preceding October.

• It is not only the large Universities that use large numbers of zero hours contracts – proportionally speaking the University of Stirling had the highest proportion of zero hours contract staff – 75% followed by St Andrews University with 61%. (The University of St Andrews stated that "at least 95%” of their zero hours staff (according to the EIS definition) were students of the University).

• There is no common definition of a zero hours contract within the Scottish HE sector, in fact some Universities seem to have very narrow definitions of zero hours staff. This prevents transparency and accountability – and had the EIS used the University of St Andrews’ definition of a zero hours contract then there would be no zero hours contract holders in the Scottish HE sector.

Download PDF