Research published by the Resolution Foundation thinktank ahead of the latest ONS figures on zero hours contracts, reveals that almost two in three (70 per cent) zero hour contract workers over 25 have been on one for more than a year.
The worrying statistics highlight the widespread use of zero hours contracts in the UK and pose a ‘key challenge’ for Theresa May, who expressed concerns about job insecurity in her maiden speech.
The number of workers in zero hours contracts has continued to rise in recent years, with the Resolution Foundation predicting ONS data will confirm further increases over the year to April-June 2016.
In her maiden speech as Prime Minister, Theresa May said: “If you’re from an ordinary working class family, life is much harder than many people in Westminster realise. You have a job but you don’t always have job security.”
While some people say zero hours contracts offer flexibility for both workers and businesses, others say no guarantee of hours or paid work can leave people struggling to pay household bills and put food on the table.
Researchers also found that the growing use of zero hours contracts cannot solely be explained by their supposed popularity among students, who tend to favour flexible employment opportunities. Only one in five workers on zero hours contracts (180,000) are full-time students, and only half aged under-25 are in full-time education (160,000).
Resolution Foundation says that whilst zero hours contracts account for a relatively small share of the labour market, “they form part of a wider growth of atypical employment”. However, they warn a blanket ban would be counter-productive.
They have however urged Theresa May to introduce further protections for workers who have been on a zero hours contract for over a year and work regular hours.
The call comes just days after Sports Direct promised to offer directly employed staff on zero hours contracts guaranteed hours of work, and improve working conditions in their warehouses.
Conor D’Arcy, Policy Analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said: “For some, zero hours contracts are symbolic of Britain’s job-creating labour market flexibility, while for others they represent the deep insecurity that belies the recent jobs recovery.
“The fact that the use of zero hours contracts has grown – and the Prime Minister has chosen to highlight the issue of job insecurity in her maiden speech – mean that they need far closer, and more measured, scrutiny.
“Banning ZHCs outright is a misguided approach that risks penalising those workers, such as some students and those with caring responsibilities, who genuinely prefer the flexibility afforded by them. But many workers who are on a ZHC want more stability, reliable hours and greater protection. Helping them get this should be a priority of this government.”
Meanwhile, separate statistics from Citizens Advice shows the number of temporary agency workers has soared by 29% in only a decade, many of whom will be on zero hours contracts.
A new report found the number of temporary agency workers has skyrocketed from 230,000 to 297,000 since 2006.
The charity claims to have seen cases where temporary agency staff were illegally denied equal employment rights, such as paid holidays and rest breaks. An analysis of 1,500 agency workers also found cases where people were paid less than their full-time counterparts.
Citizens Advice is calling on the government to improve the enforcement of workers rights, as well as the creation of a single, well-resourced ‘Fair Work Authority’ whose only role would be to enforce employment rights and provide a place for workers to report problems.
Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Making work pay is the bedrock of a functioning economy.
“The government has made major improvements around work in the UK. More people have jobs than ever before and the National Living Wage is a true social justice reform. But the next step on the journey must be to look at the problems around insecure jobs including agency work because some people are being treated unfairly.
“Making larger employers publish the types of contracts their staff are on would ensure transparency and put pressure on bosses to make sure flexibility is only used where it is truly required.
“Not only will it help employees get the rights they’re entitled to it would also level the playing field for those employers who are upholding people’s rights.”