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'New rights' move over zero hours

Workers on "zero hours" contracts could be given the right to request fixed term working, Business Secretary Vince Cable has said.

Mr Cable said that ministers were actively looking at measures to tackle "abuse" of the "zero hours" system.

Speaking at the Resolution Foundation think tank in London, he said that one option would be to give employees the right to request fixed contracts in the way they can currently request flexible working.

"I think that is an area in which we need to move forward and we are looking at how we can best do it," he said.

Mr Cable said that he was also looking at the issue of "exclusivity contracts" where workers were prevented from working for other employers even though they had no guaranteed paid work.

"That is intrinsically unreasonable," he said.

Mr Cable stressed that many workers found zero hours contracts useful and he rejected opposition demands for a requirement for employers to offer fixed contracts after 12 months.

"We feel this is not very wise. You would get a massive proliferation of 11-month zero hours contracts," he said.

With growth in the economy picking up and employment levels rising, Mr Cable suggested the time had come to consider whether reforms aimed at promoting labour market reforms had gone too far.

"We would argue that a lot of that (economy recovery) is due to the fact that we have a flexible labour market. That is in many ways very positive both for employers and employees," he said.

"But as we move and the recovery is sustained, the question that is worth asking is: 'Is it possible to have labour markets that are too flexible and are we indeed in that position in the UK?'"

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