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Zero-Hours Contracts Come Back Under Scrutiny

The use of zero-hours contracts has come under scrutiny again following the publication by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) of the latest estimated figures on their use.

Rise in Use of Zero-Hours Contracts

The ONS defines zero-hours contracts as contracts with no guaranteed hours of work. Its figures show that between April and June 2016, 903,000 people were employed on zero-hours contracts in their main job, which represents 2.9% of all people in employment. This is an increase of  156,000 over the same period last year, when 747,000 or 2.4% of people in employment, were employed on these contracts.

ONS highlights that in recent years there has been much greater awareness and recognition of the term “zero-hours contract”, which is likely to have led to increases in the number of people reporting that they are on one. According to ONS, this latest annual change in its figures may also have been affected in this way but it is not possible to estimate the extent.

Workers on Zero-Hours Contracts

The ONS figures show that people on zero-hours contracts are more likely to be young, part-time, women, or in full-time education when compared with other people in employment.

On average, someone on a zero-hours contract usually works 25 hours a week. Around one in three people (31%) on a zero-hours contract want more hours, with most wanting them in their current job, as opposed to a different job which offers more hours. In comparison, 10% of other people in employment wanted more hours.

Responses to the Figures

Commenting on the figures, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

“Zero-hours contracts have become an easy way for bosses to employ staff on the cheap. There is no getting away from the fact that zero-hours workers earn less money and have fewer rights than people with permanent jobs.

“It is very easy for politicians and employers to talk about the ‘flexibility’ these contracts offer. But they are not the ones living at the sharp end of the labour market.”

The UK Government also issued a statement in response to the figures. A spokesperson for the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said:

“As the Prime Minister has made clear, we want to do more to build an economy that works for everyone and to help working people who are struggling to get by.

“Since May last year, the use of exclusivity clauses has been unlawful, meaning that individuals have more control over their lives and can work more hours with another employer if they wish.

“Fewer than 3% of the UK workforce classes itself as being on a zero-hours contract in their main job, with almost 70% of those on this type of contract happy with the number of hours they work.”

Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.

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