It was reported yesterday that McDonald's is set to offer employment contracts containing fixed hours to its 115,000 employees employed under zero-hours contracts. This follows a trial offer across 23 restaurants, following which 20% of employees at those restaurants elected to switch to contracts containing fixed working hours.

McDonald's 115,000 zero-hours employees represent a significant proportion of the 905,000 that the Office of National Statistics reported last month were employed on zero-hours contracts for their main job between October and December 2016. This, therefore, is a significant move. It remains to be seen how many of the 115,000 will in fact take up the offer of fixed hours. However, the 20% figure from the trial suggests that the debate over zero-hours contracts is not over yet – it is notable that 80% of those included in the trial elected to stay on zero-hours contracts (although we do not know how the terms otherwise compared).

What is clear (and has been for some time now) is that, disregarding the benefits of zero-hours contracts for employers, whilst many employees prefer the certainty and security of contracts containing fixed hours, many value the flexibility of a zero-hours working arrangement. It seems McDonald's has now found a way of putting this debate to bed within their organisation, by giving staff the ability to choose between the two, but otherwise it remains on-going. Research by the Trade Union Congress, also released yesterday, has found that the number of employees in the UK in insecure employment (including, but not limited to, zero-hours contracts) continues to grow.

Perhaps the solution McDonald's has found would help address the debate elsewhere. It may be that the answer is not to ban zero-hours contracts but to change the law so that all employees who would otherwise be given zero-hours contracts, are offered the choice of a zero-hours arrangement, or a fixed hours arrangement on comparable terms. This is certainly something that larger employers, at least, may want to consider. For now though, the debate looks set to rumble on.

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