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The UK’s largest union has said that too many UK businesses like Sports Direct remain “addicted” to the use of zero-hours contracts and insecure jobs, as official figures released yesterday showed there are over a million workers on contracts that do not guarantee a minimum number of hours.

The number of workers on zero-hours contracts has fallen to the lowest level in three years, as employers slowly move away from the controversial contracts, but Unite says there are still far too many who model their whole business on low-paid and insecure jobs.

Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reveals there were 1.4 million people on zero-hours contracts in May 2017, down from 1.7 million during the same period the previous year and the lowest since January 2014.

Zero-hours jobs currently account for 5% of all employment opportunities in the UK, but the ONS also found that a quarter of people on these contracts want more hours, compared to just 7.2% of other workers.

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Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said: “Insecure work is still a feature of day-to-day living for far too many people who are struggling to eke out a living, not knowing from one week to the next whether they can put food on the table.

“The spread of bogus self-employment and low-paid short hours contracts means millions are still in the grip of precarious work.

“Too many companies like Sports Direct are addicted to the use of exploitative zero-hours contracts and insecure agency work.

“These firms base their whole business models on low paid precarious work. It won’t change unless people join a trade union and organise for better working conditions.

“The government must not let these firms off the hook either and must act to outlaw zero hours contracts and other mutations of precarious work.

“We need an economy based on decent secure work, not the exploitative work practices of the Victorian era. The government needs to take a leaf out of New Zealand’s book and ban zero hours contracts now.”

David Freeman, a senior labour market statistician at the ONS, said: “It seems possible that the trend towards this type of work has begun to unwind.”