2 Sep 2015

Rise in number of zero-hours workers

The number of workers on zero-hours contracts increases by almost a fifth to 744,000, amid Labour claims that the government is allowing a culture of job insecurity to spread.

People on a zero-hours contract in their main job represented 2.4 per cent of all those in work in April-June, compared with 2.3 per cent in the same period a year ago, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

The latest figures will add to the debate over the use of contracts which mean that employees do not know how much work they have from one week to the next.

According to the TUC, average pay for people on zero-hours contracts is £188 a week, compared with £479 for permanent workers.

The ONS estimates that there are around 1.5 million contracts that do not guarantee a minimum number of hours, confirming that many workers are on more than one zero-hours contract.

Those most likely to be on zero-hours contracts are women, people in full-time education, and workers aged 16-24 and over 65. Roughly one in 10 people working in the accommodation and food industries is on a zero-hours contract , the highest for any sector.

Of those on these contracts, 59 per cent do not want to work longer hours, while 24 per cent say they do.

‘Deep insecurity’

Laura Gardiner, from the Resolution Foundation think tank, said: “Capturing the true scale of zero-hours contract working has proven challenging in recent years, but it is clear that this form of working is not fading away as our employment recovery gains ground.

“While it’s true that some people value the flexibility offered by zero-hours contracts, for many they bring deep insecurity.”

Andrew Hunter, of jobs site Adzuna, said the rise “highlights an appetite for flexible working that is not yet being met”.

Chuka Umunna, shadow business secretary, said: “These stark figures show that the Tories are the party of insecurity at work.

“As long as ministers are happy to sit aside and encourage the proliferation of insecure work, more and more people won’t have the security of knowing where their next pay cheque is coming from or being able to plan ahead.”

‘Pathway to employment’

But a Business Department spokesman said these contracts had “a part to play in a modern, flexible labour market”, adding: “For workers such as students and those with caring responsibilities they provide a pathway to employment, particularly when the individual cannot commit to regular hours.

“However, we have acted to ban the use of exclusivity clauses in these contracts which prevent people from boosting their income when they have no guarantee of work.”