Zero-hours contracts rise to 1.8m

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Published: Wednesday 25th February 2015 by The News Editor

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The number of zero-hours contracts has increased from 1.4 million to 1.8 million, new figures have revealed.

The new total for last August is 400,000 more than a previously published estimate in January 2014, said the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The number of people saying they were employed on zero-hours contracts in their main job was 697,000 in the quarter to December, up from 586,000 in the same period in 2013.

The figures mean that some people are on more than one contract with no guarantee of a minimum number of hours.

The TUC said the figures summed up what has gone wrong in the modern workplace.

Around a third of people on zero-hours contracts want more hours, said the ONS report.

People on zero-hours contracts are more likely to be women or working part-time, on an average of 25 hours a week.

Business Secretary Vince Cable said: “Zero-hours contracts are valued by many employers and individuals who want flexibility in the hours they work, such as students, people with caring responsibilities and those who want to partially retire.

“However, historically there has also been some abuse in these types of contracts. That is why I am taking legislation through Parliament at the moment to ban exclusivity clauses in zero-hours contracts which prevent people looking for additional work to boost their income. We want to make sure that people who are on zero-hours contracts get a fair deal.

“Today’s figures show that there has been an increase in the number of people who say they are on a zero-hours contract. One of the reasons for this rise is that people are becoming more aware of their contractual status with their employer.

“This is something I welcome and would urge people to clarify their position with their employer so that they are fully aware of their rights.”

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Zero-hours contracts sum up what has gone wrong in the modern workplace.

“They shift almost all power from the worker and give it to their boss. Anyone on such a contract has no guarantee of any work from one day to another. Put a foot wrong and you can find yourself with little or no work.

“Employers often argue that they offer flexibility but try telling that to zero-hours workers who can’t get a mortgage or pay their rent.

“In many sectors, especially social care, zero-hours contracts are used to drive down costs regardless of the impact on services and the workforce.”

The TUC said zero-hours workers earn £300 a week less, on average, than staff on permanent contracts, while two in five are paid less than £111 a week and do not qualify for statutory sick pay.

Short-term and insecure working patterns mean many zero-hours workers do not work continuously with one employer for two years.

As a result, many miss out on statutory redundancy pay, the right to return to their job after maternity leave and protection from unfair dismissal, said the union organisation.

Conor D’Arcy, policy analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said: “Zero-hours contracts are a potent symbol of the recent downturn. They signal both the flexibility that has helped keep unemployment down but also the deep insecurity that has blighted many jobs.

“The continued growth of zero-hours contracts during the recovery suggests that they are more than just a recession-related phenomenon. While many employers may have started to use zero-hours contracts during the downturn, it looks like most are sticking with them.

“Growing awareness of zero-hours contracts among survey respondents may explain part of the increase but the longer these figures continue rising, the stronger the argument looks that they are here to stay.

“While many workers don’t mind being on a zero-hours contract, further policy action is needed to prevent them from becoming the standard form of employment in some low-paid sectors, such as social care.”

More than half of businesses in accommodation and food services and one in four in education made some use of contracts with no guaranteed hours, the ONS report added.

Dr John Philpott, director of The Jobs Economist, said: “The latest estimates of the number of people employed on zero-hours contracts is disturbing, not only because the share of jobs without guaranteed hours of work is increasing but also because we were told that the economic recovery was likely to see their use diminish.

“On the contrary, it looks as though zero-hours contracts are becoming a more ingrained feature of the UK’s employment landscape, which is likely to buttress poor pay and working conditions in the lower reaches of the labour market.”

Chuka Umunna, shadow business secretary, said: “The Tories’ plan is failing working families. While they prioritise a few at the top, for others there’s a rising tide of insecurity.

“Ministers have watered down every person’s rights at work and zero-hours contracts have gone from being a niche concept to becoming the norm in parts of our economy.

“The findings today that there are now 1.8 million zero-hours contracts and that the number of people reporting they are on a zero-hours contract for their main job has risen by almost 20% is yet another stark illustration of a recovery which is not working for working people.”

University and College Union general secretary Sally Hunt said: ” The use of zero-hours and other forms of casualised contracts in education is one of the great scandals of our time. Without a proper contract staff cannot plan their lives on a month-to-month or even a week-to-week basis.”

Published: Wednesday 25th February 2015 by The News Editor

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