The UAE retail and hospitality industry would be enhanced if employers were allowed to hire staff on flexible zero hour contracts, according to experts.
Simply put, a zero hour contract is a contract used in the United Kingdom (UK) in which an employee is not guaranteed a set amount of hours or salary. The employee is paid only for the hours worked and is usually expected to be on call for the jobs.
Asked how viable such a concept would be for a market like the UAE, Ann Duff, Managing Director of Dubai-based InRetail Consultants, said that a flexible contract scheme would allow an employer to have a larger workforce without the added costs.
However, the current UAE labour law does not permit expatriates to work on a zero hour contract, employment lawyers and retail experts said.
Ted Raffoul, a consultant at HR consultancy Mercer in Dubai, said in an email to Gulf News that zero hour contracts are popular in countries like the UK as it allows students and other people only available to work limited hours to be employed.
Duff said, a medium sized retail store with 12 employees could increase its workforce to 15 if a zero hour contract scheme was available to employers.
“You could have people come in during the day when it was quiet but in the peak times you could have flexible staff working,” she added.
A zero hour contract scheme would also reduce the workload of full-time employees in the retail and hospitality industry, Duff said.
In the UAE people working in the retail and hospitality industry regularly work six days a week.
Duff said that flexible staff would mean that full time employees could work a five-day roster each week.
The five-day roster would also mean full time employees would be more obliged to cover extra shifts, Duff added. But the benefits were not just financial, she points out, further explaining that customer service would likely improve because the employee is less over-worked. 
Shavak Srivastava, Managing Director of Sq.Ft Consulting, a retail consultancy that works with shopping centre development and retailers in the GCC and India, said retailers always need flexibility.
At different points in time you require larger numbers of people, he said, and zero contract employees could be used during sales and festival times when extra staff are needed.
Suited for students
Duff and Srivastava said the zero contract model would be best suited for university students and individuals on spousal residency visas, such as housewives.
Spouses and university students often only want to work a limited amount of hours per week, Duff said. “But they are available in the mornings, evenings, and weekends when staff are needed most.”
Srivastava said that a zero hour contract scheme would allow employers to hire casual staff for times that are needed and also reduce the amount of staff rostered during quiet periods.
Duff says a zero hour scheme would not just benefit retail and hospitality sectors but also positions in administration events.
Rachel Alidoosti, Regional Human Resources Manager, Virgin Megastore, said in an emailed statement that hiring expatriate students and dependents on spousal visas would reduce costs for the retailers, especially during busy seasons.
Duff agrees: “There are no visa, insurance or housing costs for an expatriate university student or spouse because they would already have it. They would just need a labour permit.”
Alidoosti said there was a real demand in the UAE for casual staff when new products arrive and during promotional and sales periods.
Srivastava said that zero hour contracts could improve the retail workforce but proper training would be needed. Employers should not think of them as a quick-fix solution, he added.
Alidoosti added that ultimately, a zero our contract would give the employer enough manpower at all times without accumulating extra unnecessary headcounts for the store and without exceeding salary budgets.
Regardless of the benefits, Alidoosti said, the zero hour scheme was not practical under the current UAE labour law. 
“There needs to be a law from the government about the minimum wage for flexible/zero hour scheme employment,” she said.
Alexander McGeoch, head of employment practice at Hadef & Partners law firm in Dubai, said the UAE labour law needs to be revised to clearly outline the concept of flexible zero hour employment.
“At the moment the rigid employment structure is inhibiting this type of employment,” he said.