Unions have criticised a “nightmare” rise in the number of people who say a zero hours contract is their main job, with new figures revealing that 2.5% of the UK workforce are on employment contracts that offer no guarantee of minimum hours.
New figures published by the Office for National Statistics show that 801,000 people were on a zero-hours contract as their main job in the 2015, compared to 697,000 in the previous year – an increase of 104,000 in only a year.
The figures taken from the labour force survey also show that people on zero-hours contracts are more likely to be young women working part-time, or in full-time education, compared to the rest the UK workforce.
ONS statistician Nick Palmer said: “This latest figure is rather higher than the 697,000 people who said they were on these contracts in late 2014.
“Though at least some of this increase may be due to greater public recognition of the term ‘zero-hours contract’, there’s also nothing to suggest this form of employment is in decline.”
People on zero-hours contracts worked an average 26 hours a week in 2015, with around one in three (37%) expressing a desire for more hours in their current job. This compares to 10% of workers on other employment contracts who wanted more hours.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Zero-hour contracts may be a dream for cost-cutting employers. But they can be a nightmare for workers.
“Many people on zero-hours contracts are unable to plan for their future and regularly struggle with paying bills and having a decent family life.
“The so-called ‘flexibility’ these contracts offer is far too one-sided. Staff without guaranteed pay have much less power to stand up for their rights and often feel afraid to turn down shifts in case they fall out of favour with their boss.
“The European Union is proposing better rights for zero-hours workers – another reason why workers should be worried about the risks of Brexit.”
Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said the Government is creating an economy reliant on low-paid and insecure employment.
Steve Turner said: “Under this government the world of work is becoming less secure with increasing numbers of people trying to eke out a living not knowing one day to the next if they have work.
“Far from being a ‘flexible’ choice for workers, zero hours contracts put all the power in the hands of the employer and are increasingly becoming the only form of work open to young people.
“This ‘treat them mean, keep them keen’ form of employment leaves people at the whim of their employer and unable to plan for the future, rent a home or get a mortgage.
“Everyone deserves decent work and the dignity and security of knowing how much they will earn from one week to the next.
“This government has repeatedly crowed about the falls in unemployment, but what it never mentions is the type of precarious, insecure work and falling wages it has overseen.
“The government needs to tackle the growing crisis of insecure employment by following the lead of governments like New Zealand in banning zero hours contracts.”
According to the latest ONS survey of businesses, there were an estimated 1.7 million jobs in November 2015 that did not guarantee a minimum number of hours, down from 2.1 million on May 2015.
However, the ONS says this could be due to seasonal differences and should not be compared directly. Differences between the business survey and labour force survey could also be explained by people working in more than one zero-hours job.
Britons worked an average 36.5 hours a week in the main job in 2014, According to OECD data.