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More than a million workers in the UK thought to be on zero-hour contracts

23rd August, 2013

Research published this week suggests that more than a million workers in the United Kingdom are on zero-hours contracts; this is four times official estimates.

The latest figures reported by the Office for National Statistics suggested that 250,000 workers were on such contracts. However a survey of 1,000 employers undertaken by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) for its forthcoming summer 2013 Labour Market Outlook has indicated that between 3 and 4% of the whole workforce were on such contracts. Some 14% of those questioned said that they were unable to earn a basic standard of living.

Workers on zero-hours contracts agree to be available as and when they are asked to work (i.e. with no guarantee of hours). This means they can be asked to leave work at any time and without having earned any money. The CIPD found that one in five employers in the United Kingdom had at least one person within their organisation on a zero-hours contract and that only 14% of those questioned said they were not provided with enough hours each week.

They also found that companies in the voluntary and public sectors, rather than the private sector, were more likely to use zero-hours contracts. The industries where employers were most likely to use zero-hours contracts were found to be hotels, catering and leisure, education and healthcare.

Commenting on the results, CIPD chief executive Peter Cheese said, “Zero-hours contracts, used appropriately, can provide flexibility for employers and employees and can play a positive role in creating more flexible working opportunities….Zero-hours contracts cannot be used simply to avoid an employer’s responsibilities to its employees.”

The trade unions are now calling to ban the use of zero-hour contracts, arguing that they result in unpredictable wages and provide managers with a lot of power in using them as a reward or as a punishment.

Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, said: “The vast majority of workers are only on these contracts because they have no choice. They may give flexibility to a few, but the balance of power favours the employers and makes it hard for workers to complain.”

A review by Business Secretary Vince Cable of zero-hour contracts is now under way. Mr Cable commented, “While it’s important our workforce remains flexible, it is equally important that it is treated fairly. This is why I have asked my officials to undertake some work over the summer to better understand how this type of contract is working in practice today.”

For more information on the CIPD’s research please click here

For information or advice on the use of zero-hour contracts, please contact Claire Brook on 01244 405575 or send an email to [email protected]

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