Where once a colloquial term for some forms of casual employment (BIS 2013), the term ‘Zero-Hour Contracts’ (or No-Guaranteed Hours Contracts) has emerged as descriptive shorthand that encompasses a vast spectrum of employment forms. Despite this, much the of debate around ZHCs continues to pivot on a general “assumption that there is such a thing as a unitary notion of the Zero-Hours Contract – both in terms of a legal category of personal work relations, and as a clearly measurable statistical phenomenon” (Adams et al 2014: 3). Such assumptions have not been sufficiently challenged by the existing body of research (e.g. Brinkley 2013; CIPD 2013). There remains no systematic and context specific research into varieties of employment forms now included under the label. Similarly, there is no attempt to ground the concept of ZHCs – and the varieties of forms it covers – in relation to existing employment frames and ongoing processes of flexibilisation.
My research attempts to provide this clarity through institutional case studies in the Higher Education sector. Fieldwork involves qualitative analysis of formal employment contracts alongside interviews with HR personnel, managerial staff, trade unions, and employees. It is hoped that my research will improve our understanding of ZHCs as a labour market phenomenon. It should also help to provide a necessary level of detail for balanced and effective policy making (BIS 2013).