Research conducted by Hospitality, Now! with students working in hospitality identified three main causes of stress for student-workers:
While a zero-hour contract has the potential to give flexibility for both employer and worker – for student-workers this is not always the case. Students in the research reported that despite many relying on this income to buy food or pay bills, they often experienced income insecurity due to late allocation of shifts, irregular working patterns, unexpected reduction of hours, or shifts being pulled at the last moment.
Feelings of replaceability
Students can feel they are easily replaceable if they are unable to accept all shifts. Additionally, due to young age, student-workers do not always communicate their needs effectively. In combination, this can mean that students work more than they should and their studies suffer.
Feelings of under-appreciation
Students can feel underappreciated at work as they sometimes feel that employers see them as young, inexperienced and transient workers.
What we are doing to help
Hospitality, Now! is working with employers, student-workers, universities and colleges, and industry bodies to champion good practice in student employment for the benefit of all.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes. A zero-hour contract can be used by an employer where work demands are irregular. Any employer should use zero-hour contracts appropriately and they can work very well for those who are studying, as long as they are fair and used in consultation with workers themselves. Your contract should state whether you are a “worker” or “employee”. Worker is the status granted for most student worker zero-hour contracts. Largely employees enjoy more rights than workers, although all workers are protected in certain ways.
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Zero-hour contracts mean flexible work hours, but this differs vastly in different jobs and with different employers. A zero-hour contract still means you are entitled to full employment rights for example – as a worker you must be paid at least the national minimum wage (a sloping scale of pay rates according to worker age between 16 and 23 years), you are entitled to paid annual leave, rest breaks and protection from discrimination. The law is also clear that the flexibility of zero-hour contracts is a benefit for both employer and worker.
While employers are not supposed to remove work hours or require hours to be worked at short notice, they can do so when it is truly unavoidable. Your contract should be clear and state in what circumstances hours of work might be changed at short notice, and your employer should honour your contract clauses. Do speak to your employer if hours are regularly changed at short notice and this impacting your studies.
Many students worry that if they appear uncooperative with employers their job will simply be given to someone else, or they won’t be considered in future timetables. An employer should not simply remove your zero-hour contract if displeased, or make you do hours you will struggle to fulfil with your other commitments. Sadly, a “worker” is not protected from unfair dismissal in the way that an “employee” is, but you are not supposed to be treated any less favourably than anyone else in the workplace, and the law is clear in that a zero-hour contract is supposed to be flexible for both employer and worker. Try to speak honestly with your employer about the challenges you are facing and propose some workable solutions that can work for both you and the employer.
You can request that you are consulted over the timetables – flexibility built into the zero-hour contract for businesses is intended to be mutual. The more “in advance” information you are able to give to your employer then the more it is reasonable for them to effectively manage the timetable to suit your study and social needs and those of other workers. Communication with your employer about your availability to work is key. Hospitality, Now! is actively working with hospitality businesses to raise awareness of this and related issues.
The National Minimum Wage – it must be stressed – is a minimum and employers have the discretion to increase pay levels when and where they feel it to be appropriate. There is no reason student-workers could not have their years of experience and growing skills base rewarded with higher pay. So too, there is no reason for employers to consider that students are somehow inferior or worth less than permanent staff and so where work socials take place student workers should be considered part of the team. An approach to your employer may be an effective means of redress for these issues, and indeed these issues are integrated into the campaigning that Hospitality, Now! is undertaking to improve student employer practice and recognising the experience and contribution of student-workers.
At present there appears to be little by way of collaboration between universities, unions and the businesses that employ students. It may indicate that there is limited awareness in the predicaments of students needing to maintain a certain number of hours to bring in a certain level of income that will ensure students can complete their courses and move to the next steps of their future careers. It may simply mean that there are few effective communication channels between all the players in the sector that are involved with zero-hour contracts and the issues are being lost. Although it is not easy, do try to speak to your programme leader about how work is affecting your study and raise these issues with your student union. Hospitality, Now! believes that much more can be done by way of support to students especially around issues such as pay increments, stable hours, and income, and much more. We are working with the unions and universities to help them appreciate the difficulties working students are facing.
Similarly, there is little by way of supportive interaction for student-workers between the organisational and institutional bodies, over the mental wellbeing, and the physical safety of student-workers. This impacts female student-workers inordinately, and male workers are affected by these issues too. Our research suggests that harassment (sexual or otherwise) of workers by customers, other staff and senior managers in workplaces is more frequent than is imagined and is considered part of the culture in hospitality. Making complaint in an environment unwilling to acknowledge the harm and distress caused by these issues is difficult. Workplaces should of course have procedures detailed in staff contracts on how to make such complaints. Anyone making a complaint should also be protected by the process as it progresses. Try to find out if there is a company policy for dealing with harassment at work and ask for training on how to deal with anti-social behaviour. Hospitality, Now! encourages all those suffering stress and anxiety for whatever reason, and those who have sexually or physically harassed to seek support from the Student Union and the University welfare unit. Hospitality, Now! is campaigning for clarity and improvements in worker contracts in these areas.
Hospitality, Now! is making the case for recognition by employers that training and staff development for student-workers is a worthwhile investment, regardless of the length of time worked. Student-workers stay in a particular workplace often for the length of their courses – between one and four years, not short periods of time by any standards these days. The sector would attract students when study ends if training is of quality and develops skills and knowledge. Everyone benefits if student-workers receive decent training for the actual job in hand, and training and development for future learning in the industry. It is possible that the sector can increase its attraction to the youth work market for the longer term.
What you can do
You can make your Voice heard in the debate on student-worker zero-hour contracts in the following ways:
Submit your question
If you are in a difficult position now, or have a question that you need answering, submit it and we shall do our best to respond in as short a time as possible by linking you with the right people who can help you, or by providing you with answers or suggestions of what you might do.
Share your story
It helps to share your experiences, good, bad, or in between, indeed it helps to know that you are not alone and that others often have experienced the same things that you have. You may want to tell us how you have improved a bad situation at work, found the solution to your timetable issues, or persuaded your employer to make public the staff shift rota to which all workers input their needed hours.
Access our resources
There is a range of resources available through this website to help you manage your employment as a zero-contract worker in the hospitality sector.