As garden centres enter the quieter summer period, how to manage staff hours is always an issue. Holiday workers, staff on holiday and reduced opening hours going into the autumn are all potential issues.
The Taylor Review, published in July, which highlights the gig economy and advises the Government on ways to protect low-paid workers, recommends a right to request set hours. But it describes the UK’s flexible labour market as one of the economy’s biggest strengths. It suggests that a blanket ban on zero-hours would create more "cliff edges" for employers and workers.
The review, written by Royal Society of the Arts chief executive Matthew Taylor, sets out seven principles to address the challenges facing the UK labour market.
Dobbies Garden Centres chief executive Nicholas Marshall says: "I’m very much against zero-hours. How on earth are people meant to pay mortgages or rents or buy food and live if they have no certainty of what they’re going to be paid? I don’t feel they are right for people who are loyal to you and who work with your customers."
But he adds that some people do want part-time jobs. He gives an example of one staff member who set their own hours in a watering job, working more when it was dry. Marshall says mothers returning to work are another example but his provisos are genuine. He has reviewed pay at Dobbies and that the chain has no zero-hours contracts.
Hillview Group chief executive Boyd Douglas-Davies says there is a "massive difference" between zero-hours and flexible-hours contracts. The former are short-term with no benefits, while the latter, which are often offered by garden centres and nurseries, include benefits such as holiday pay and equal rights.
"The industry needs to make clear it is not a zero-hours industry," adds Douglas-Davies. "Flexible hours suit students who want holiday work and mums who want term-time work. We don't want to be seen as part of that zero-hours brigade. We want to get away from the word."
He points out that his business is highly seasonal with spring and Christmas peaks when staff have to be brought in, although he aims to level out troughs by adding more leisure offerings.
Wyevale Garden Centres has a flexible structure in place that enables staff hours to be increased and reduced to coincide with the busiest periods. Wages will be higher than in 2016 across this year but will be lower in the second half of the year compared with last year, by as much as £1.5m, because Wyevale expects business to be quieter.
Camden Garden Centre managing director Peter Hulatt says he keeps things simple by opening 9am-5pm in the winter and 8.30am-5.30pm in the summer but pays staff the same all year round. He has some part-timers but no zero-hours contracts.
Taylor also recommends eliminating tribunal fees for employment status hearings as well as extending statutory sick pay and the right to statements of employment particulars to workers.
HTA horticulture head Raoul Curtis-Machin says retailers have a lot of weekend and other part-time staff so flexibility is key. "People have different personal situations."
He also points out that staff wanting to work at non-standard times is seen as a benefit of the garden centre world.
The Labour Party has said it would ban zero hours outright.
Retail consultant Neville Stein says he agrees with banning zero-hours contracts, adding: "Workers need security, peace of mind and guaranteed incomes."
GCA chief executive Iain Wylie says flexibility is the most important consideration for garden centre owners. He says creating a balance between part-timers and full-timers is important for businesses so they can work in a seasonal business.
Taylor recommendations include:
- People who work for platform-based companies, such as Deliveroo and Uber, be classed as dependent contractors.
- Strategies must be put in place to make sure that workers do not get stuck on the National Living Wage.
- A national strategy to provide good work for all, "for which Government needs to be held accountable".
- The Government should avoid further increasing the non-wage costs of employing a person, such as the apprenticeship levy.