Zero Hours Contracts
2 May 2014
It’s official. The number of workers trapped on zero hour contracts is growing.
Figures announced by the Office of National Statistics show at least 1.4 million workers are now employed on contracts that do not guarantee a minimum number of hours. Other reports suggest the figure could be as high as 5.5 million workers.
On average, someone on a zero-hours contract works around 25 hours a week compared with 37 hours a week for those not employed on such contracts. Just over a third of those employed on a zero-hours contract want more hours, with most wanting them in their current job.
According to the TUC, the majority of workers on zero-hours contracts earn less than the living wage. The report also found that workers on zero-hours contracts were nearly six times as likely to have differing amounts of weekly pay compared to staff with other kinds of work arrangements. Two in five zero-hours workers reported having no usual amount of pay. This lack of regular hours and income makes it difficult for families to budget and organise childcare, says the TUC.
Young people are finding it particularly difficult to secure permanent employment, says the report. More than two in five zero-hours workers in their twenties said they were working part-time because they couldn’t get full-time employment.
The TUC is concerned that the number of people trapped on zero-hours contracts continues to grow, even as the economy recovers. If this kind of insecure working arrangement becomes acceptable, low pay and poor career prospects will become the norm.
Commenting on the latest ONS figures, Dave Prentis, UNISON General Secretary said:
The huge rise in these risky employment contracts shows how weak and precarious the labour market is. It is shocking for the Government to brag about a recovering economy when there are more than 1.4 million contracts in use that do not guarantee a minimum number of hours and a regular source of income for workers. These figures show that once again it is women who are bearing the brunt of this Government's austerity agenda, as they make up the majority of the workforce on unfair zero hours contracts. Employers already have more flexibility than they need and workers struggle as a result. People should have the right to regular hours and decent pay.
So what’s to be done? The week before the ONS figures were announced, the Labour Party set out their initial proposals for controlling ZHC. Ed Miliband acknowledged the rapid growth and exploitative nature of the contracts and promised to tackle the worst abuses of the system. Unfortunately, the proposals, based on the recommendations of the former Morrisons' HR chief Norman Pickavance, failed to match the promises Ed Miliband made to TUC delegates at the 2013 Congress.
Looking to possible solutions, Paul Kenny GMB General Secretary said "There has to be an end of exclusivity clauses, minimum hours should be specified in contracts and workers should have the right to claim deemed contractual hours on the basis of their average hours over any 12 week period.
An editorial in the Morning Star suggested that Ed Miliband would be better turning to the labour movement’s think-tank, IER, rather than Morrison’s former HR manager for advice on how to improve employment rights for workers. And the IER will be happy to oblige. Simon Deakin, an inaugural member of IER, and his co-author Zoe Adams, are currently preparing a book on Agency Workers, Zero Hour Contracts and Employment Status, due out in the summer. Read their initial thoughts on the problem of zero hours contracts.