Growth in zero-hours contracts has stalled in the UK, according to the latest official figures, but campaigners have warned that insecure work is still a problem in Britain, reports The Guardian.
There were 1.7m zero-hours contracts in the UK in November 2016, representing 6 per cent of all employment contracts – unchanged from a year earlier. The Office for National Statistics said the number of firms using zero-hours contracts had fallen.
Employees on zero-hours contracts are not guaranteed a minimum number of hours in any given week. The contracts have been widely used by retailers, restaurants, leisure companies and hotels, including Sports Direct and McDonald’s, and tend to be most commonly used at larger firms.
The Resolution Foundation thinktank said there could be a number of reasons why the use of such contracts had stalled, including the bad press received by firms using them and the record employment rate, which could mean companies were struggling to attract workers if they did not guarantee hours of work.
“Today’s figures provide more evidence that the rapid rise in zero-hours contract use looks to have come to an end. It’s likely that this reflects a combination of workers seeking alternatives in a healthier jobs market and firms recognising that they don’t always represent an appropriate option,” said Conor D’Arcy, policy analyst at the foundation.
He said the figures were not necessarily an indication that insecure work was becoming less of a problem in Britain. “Agency work, short-hours contracts and self-employment have all grown substantially in recent years, increasing the number of people in ‘atypical’ work,” he added.
A record 905,000 people were employed on zero-hours contracts in the final three months of 2016 – about 100,000 or 13 per cent more than a year earlier. Some people have more than one job.
Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), said the latest figures were no cause for celebration and that firms were finding other ways to employ people on insecure terms. “While it’s good that some companies are moving away from using them, there are a staggering 1.7m zero-hours contracts still in use.
“Let’s not pretend that life at the sharp end of the labour market is getting easier. There is growing evidence of firms employing staff on short-hours contracts to avoid the bad PR associated with zero-hours jobs. These contracts guarantee as little as one hour a week and, like zero-hours contracts, leave workers at the beck and call of their bosses.”
O’Grady said every party manifesto in the run-up to the general election should include a commitment to crack down on zero-hours contracts and other forms of insecure work.
People on zero-hours contracts are more likely to be young, part-time, women or in full-time education. Around a third would like to work more hours than they are offered, compared with 9 per cent of people in employment who are not on zero-hours contracts.