Zero-hours contracts increase to 1.8m slammed by unions

Posted on 26 Feb 2015 by Tim Brown

Figures on zero-hours contracts expose a massive flaw in employment law, which has led to a hand to mouth existence for the millions of workers according to unions.

The Office For National Statistics released figures yesterday that showed 1.8 million people are employed under zero-hours contracts and the number of workers employed on a the contracts as their main job (working an average of 25 hours a week) has increased by 18.9% in the last 12 months to 700,000 people.

“Zero-hours contracts sum up what has gone wrong in the modern workplace,” TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said.

“They shift almost all power from the worker and give it to their boss,” O’Grady said. “Anyone on such a contract has no guarantee of any work from one day to another. Put a foot wrong, and you can find yourself with little or no work. Employers often argue that they offer flexibility, but trying telling that to zero-hours workers who can’t get a mortgage or pay their rent.”

TUC research showed that:

  • Zero-hours workers earn £300 a week less, on average, than staff on permanent contracts.
  • Two in five zero-hours workers are paid less than £111 a week and do not qualify for statutory sick pay.
  • Short-term and insecure working patterns mean many zero-hours workers do not work continuously with one employer for two years. As a result, many miss out on statutory redundancy pay, the right to return to their job after maternity leave and protection from unfair dismissal.

Paul Kenny, General Secretary at trade union GMB provided an even more damning review of the contracts. “There are fundamental problems about Europe that we have to face up to. Whatever the European vision was on integration, harmony, economic advancement and political stability, what we currently have isn’t it,” he said.

Responding to the figures, Unite general secretary, Len McCluskey said:“What the ONS figures do not reveal is that we also have record levels of self-employment in this country. Combined with this, the increase in zero-hours jobs exposes a labour market where insecure work is becoming an employment model of choice.

“The prevalence of zero-hours work in bigger employers indicates that this rise is not so much about employers trying to weather the downturn, but more about businesses enjoying the freedom this form of employment affords them from the fundamental rights and decent wages that ought to accompany responsible employment.”

“We need urgent, meaningful action to rebalance our economy.  A ban on zero-hours contracts and the return of collective bargaining must be the basic first steps to put a floor under the ever-falling living standards for millions in this country.”