News - 1.4 million employers use zero-hour contracts

30th April 2014

Workers are not “aware” of what contracts they are on as 1.4m companies are assumed by the Office for National Statistics to use zero-hour contracts.

The figure dwarfs previous ONS estimates, which suggested only 583,000 workers were on the controversial employment contracts.

Published today, the snapshot survey taken by the ONS over a two week period earlier this year, suggests that many of the workers on such contracts have at least two jobs.

The ONS considers “contracts that do not guarantee a minimum number of hours”, rather than zero-hours to be a more useful term and the report stated: “Estimates from employers are likely to be higher than those from individuals for a number of reasons.

“Employers may be more aware of formal contractual arrangements of their employees.”

Business Secretary, Vince Cable said: “The ONS analysis shows that these types of contracts can provide important and flexible employment opportunities that suit most people in these jobs and provide an average of 25 hours’ work a week.

“However, it is also clear there has been some abuse of those on zero hour contracts by some less scrupulous employers. Given the current estimates of people on these types of contracts, it is important we take action. That is why I launched a consultation on the issue of exclusivity in zero hours to ensure people are getting a fair deal.

“Students, older people and people wanting to top up their income want to work flexibly, but we want to make sure they understand their rights and that they are not tied exclusively to one employer.

Chuka Umunna MP, Labour’s Shadow Business Secretary, said: “These shocking figures show that since David Cameron became Prime Minister, there has been huge increase in the number of people on zero hours contracts.

“Labour is clear that we will outlaw them where they exploit people, ensuring that people at work are protected and get a fair deal.”

Andrew Hunter, co-founder of the jobs search engine Adzuna, said: “Official indicators for the jobs market are resoundingly positive, but hidden beneath the headline statistics is a more complicated truth.

“The number of employees on zero-hours contracts suggests a growing proportion of the workforce are still balanced in quite a precarious employment position.”

And TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Insecure work with no guarantee of regular paid hours is no longer confined to the fringes of the jobs market.

“It is worrying that so many young people are trapped on zero-hours contracts, which can hold back their careers and make it harder to pay off debts like student loans. The fact that these contracts have become the norm in tourism, catering and food will be a major concern for the millions of people employed in these industries.

But Neil Carberry, CBI director for employment and skills, believed the contracts helped “protect and create jobs through the recession”, he said: “Flexible contracts provide opportunities for work and help people build careers.

“To focus on numbers is to miss the point – zero-hour contracts are a small part of the labour market and provide benefits to businesses and workers.

“They offer a choice to those who want flexibility in the hours they work, such as students, parents and carers.

“Of course we need to address bad practice, but arbitrary attacks on the existence of flexible contracts would cost jobs and damage growth.”


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