Huge increase in zero-hour contracts – in a ‘booming’ economy?

[Image: Eoin Clarke.]

This graph is now out of date but shows the rapid rise of the zero-hours contract. By the end of 2014, the number of people on zero contracts was 697,000, according to the ONS. [Image: Eoin Clarke.]

Here are a few figures from the Office of National Statistics:

  • Number of people employed on a “zero-hours contract” in their main job was 697,000 for October to December 2014, representing 2.3% of all people in employment. In the same period in 2013, this was 1.9% of all people in employment (586,000).
  • The number of people saying they are employed on “zero-hours contracts” depends on whether or not they recognise this term. It is not possible to say how much of the increase between 2013 and 2014 is due to greater recognition rather than new contracts.
  • Number of contracts that do not guarantee a minimum number of hours where work was carried out was 1.8 million for the fortnight beginning 11 August 2014. The previously published estimate was 1.4 million for the fortnight beginning 20 January 2014.
  • The two estimates of contracts should not be directly compared. They cover different times of year so changes in the numbers may reflect seasonal factors.
  • On average, someone on a “zero-hours contract” usually works 25 hours a week.
  • Around a third of people on “zero-hours contracts” want more hours, with most wanting them in their current job, compared with 10% of other people in employment.
  • People on “zero-hours contracts” are more likely to be women, in full-time education or working part-time. They are also more likely to be aged under 25 or 65 and over.
  • Over half of businesses in Accommodation and Food Services and a quarter of businesses in Education made some use of no guaranteed hours contracts in August 2014.

This is at a time when the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has said the UK has bounced back strongly from the recession and has one of the strongest economies in the G7 nations.

Admittedly, the OECD has said productivity – stagnant for many years now – must improve in order for living standards to rise, but this is not part of the zero-hours plan. The Conservative-led Coalition wanted to put as many people as possible into jobs of any description, in order to claim a drop in unemployment – but zero-hours contracts, while helping businesses by eliminating in-work benefits like sick pay and holiday pay, do not help productivity at all; they use more people to achieve the same result.

In the case of the UK, it seems, they have been achieving worsening results, as dipping tax receipts have made all-too-clear. George Osborne claimed a surplus in January, but this is clearly a manufactured result, formed from panic after the last few tax revenue figures became public.

So what does Labour say about all this?

Scottish Nationalists will be surprised to learn that the party Pete Wishart believes is “cuddling up to the Tories” was unequivocally critical.

“The Tories’ plan is failing working families,” said Chuka Umunna, shadow business secretary.

“While they prioritise a few at the top, for others there’s a rising tide of insecurity. Ministers have watered down every person’s rights at work and zero-hours contracts have gone from being a niche concept to becoming the norm in parts of our economy.

“The ONS’ findings today that there are now 1.8 million zero-hours contracts and that the number of people reporting they are on a zero-hours contract for their main job has risen by almost 20 per cent is yet another stark illustration of a recovery which is not working for working people.”

He said: “Labour’s Better Plan for Britain’s Prosperity would ban exploitative zero-hours contracts, prohibit employers from requiring workers to be available on the off-chance they are needed, ensure zero-hours contract workers who have shifts cancelled at short notice receive compensation and give employees who consistently work regular hours the right to a fixed-hours contract.

“Ministers have sat on their hands and opposed our plans, in the face of rising insecurity for people.”

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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