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Retailers clash on zero-hours contract issue

Independent retailers are split over the use of zero-hours contracts, with some boutiques heralding them as beneficial to both the employer and the employee, while others have called the controversial practice a “disgrace”.

Last month it emerged that many retailers, including Sports Direct, were employing staff on zero- hours contracts.

The contracts mean employees are effectively on-call whenever the store needs cover, but have no guaranteed hours and face uncertain income as a result.

Companies employing workers on such contracts, which do not provide sickness or holiday pay, have come under fire for exploiting staff. The Labour MP for Corby in Northamptonshire, Andy Sawford, has submitted a private members’ bill to try to ban the contracts.

A number of retailers have admitted to hiring staff on a combination of fixed hours and zero-hours contracts.

Donna Ida Thornton, owner of four-store women’s denim retailer Donna Ida, said 10% of her staff are employed on zero-hours contracts and the arrangements work for both her and the staff.

“When it’s quieter in August we might want to dial it down and other times they might want to dial it up. It works both ways. The key about this is to be open about everything from the start.”

Premium womenswear boutique Eternal Envy in Heaton Moor, Stockport, is currently advertising a zero-hours contract position. Owner Maria Telfs said such a contract offers flexibility to both the employee and herself.

“We are taking on a second shop on a temporary basis with a view to long term. It’s uncharted  territory and we’re not sure how many staff we need. It also works out well for them. When they’re at university they have a lot of free time so it works out well for all parties. It’s the perfect solution for small businesses.”

Clare Serjeant, owner of womenswear store Fox + Feather in Bristol, wrote to Drapers last week highlighting the benefits of the contracts to her business and staff.

“I’ve found that many people prefer to be on a zero-hours contract so they can pick and choose when they want to work or do zero hours if they choose,” she said.

However, many indies are against the use of the contracts. One vocal opponent is Jo Davies, owner of premium womenswear indie Black White Denim in Wilmslow, Cheshire, who described the use of them as a “disgraceful way to treat people”.

She added: “I am strongly against them. How can I expect my staff , who are the lifeblood of my business, to show me loyalty and commitment if I can’t do the same to them?”

John Reid, owner of Bristol luxury retailer garment Quarter, said: “I personally don’t feel it is fair but I can understand why indies would use them. It helps keep costs down. I like to at least guarantee that employees have something in terms of salary and holiday.”

Steve turner, executive director for policy at trade union unite, called for “urgent action” to curb the use of “exploitative zero-hours contracts”.

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