09 September 2016
The number of workers saying they are on a zero-hours contract for their main job has risen by over 20% in the last year.
This is according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics, which showed 903,000 workers are on a zero-hours contract compared with 747,000 in 2015.
Women and young people aged between 16 and 24 were revealed to be more likely than male and older workers to be on zero-hours contracts, and almost a third (31%) of those on the contracts wanted to work more hours than they were currently provided.
Furthermore, these statistics understate the number of jobs that are currently held under zero-hours contracts, as some workers may not be aware of their status and others may hold a casual job as a secondary means of income.
Figures published in March showed there were 1.7 million zero-hours contracts in the economy, and despite their higher turnovers, it is the largest companies who are most likely to use this form of casualised labour.
As many as 40% of firms with over 250 workers used zero-hours contracts, compared with around 10% of businesses with fewer than 10 workers.
The Institute of Employment Rights has been tracking the growing problem of casualised labour, releasing Re-Regulating Zero-Hours Contracts last year. Authors Professor Simon Deakin and Zoe Adams explain how the rise of such contracts is contributing to a weakened and unproductive economy, as well as how the government’s approach to providing welfare for unemployed and disabled people incentivises people to take poor quality jobs, and businesses to create more of them.
Workers, too, undoubtedly suffer from such insecure contracts, and their experiences of vulnerability have added to controversy over this new trend. In recommendations made to the Labour Party this year, and supported by Jeremy Corbyn’s team, the Institute of Employment Rights has called for the legal definition of a ‘worker’ to be reassessed in order to include people in casualised roles and thereby provide them with further protections. We also propose restructuring labour law to refocus on collectively agreed pay and conditions at a sectoral and enterprise level rather than relying on statutory minimums to strengthen workers’ voices and thereby reduce the huge wage gap the UK is experiencing – currently the widest in Europe – and allow workers to negotiate for better conditions, such as guaranteed hours.