The so called “zero hours” contract has come under scrutiny this week after news emerged that part time employees at a top sports brand andLondon councils were among those employed on these terms. But what is a zero hours contract and what are its advantages and disadvantages?

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has revealed that their recent survey indicated that up to one million people in Britain could be employed under this type of contract, which stipulate that there are no minimum hours that an employer is required to offer an employee.

Although zero hours contracts, used appropriately, can provide flexibility for employers and employees and can play a positive role in creating more flexible working opportunities, there are fears that employers may abuse this type of contract and exploit staff members that are employed under these contracts, as they give no guarantees of shifts, work patterns or hours.

The CIPD has said that one in five employers in theUK had at least one employee on a zero hours contract. This type of contract has proven popular in catering, education and health care professions because it provides both the employer and employee with flexibility, which is particularly appealing to students and young employees with families.

There is a concern however that these contracts may not achieve a fair balance between the employer and employee as the employer is under no obligation to offer the employee any work.

Despite controversy over their use, it is claimed that just 16% of those affected said their employer often fairs to provide them with sufficient hours each week.